By Barry Janoff
Aprill 4, 2017: Stating that "we now consider the matter officially closed," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league would not stop play during the 2017-18 season to allow players to participate in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea.
The last time the NHL did not have players in the Olympics was 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway.
The issue has been on-going, in particular, per the NHL, since the International Olympic Committee, which had been covering NHL costs relating to travel, insurance and accommodations for players and their guests, decided to cease those payments for the 2018 Games.
However, the decision was not unanimous as the NHL Players’ Assn. called the NHL’s move "disappointing" and "short-sighted."
In a statement, the NHL said, "We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue — the IOC, the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation), the NHLPA — as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject.
"A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized," according to the NHL. "Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL's participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018.
"As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed."
The NHL in its statement also claimed, "The NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs."
However, in its own statement, the NHLPA said, "The league's efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. Moreover, it is doing so after the financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF."
According to the NHLPA, "Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season's schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
"A unique opportunity lies ahead with the 2018 and 2022 Olympics in Asia," said the NHLPA. "The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.”
NHL players appeared to agree with the NHLPA and not the NHL.
All-Star Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and one of the faces of the NHL, may have started a revolution when said he would still play for Russia’s National Team in the Olympics.
New York Rangers goalie Hendrik Lundqvist was also among the players to voice displeasure with the NHL’s decision.
“Disappointing news, @NHL won't be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted,” he wrote on his Twitter account. "But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can't be part of the most special adventure in sports.”"
The IOC released its own statement regarding the situation.
"This must be a huge disappointment for the players who definitely wanted to play at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The IOC feels very sorry for the athletes.
"The decision is even more regrettable, as the International Ice Hockey Federation had offered the same conditions to the NHL as at previous Olympic Games, where the insurance and travel costs were covered.
"The IOC, which distributes 90% of its revenue for the development of sport in the world, obviously cannot treat a national commercial league better than not-for-profit International Sports Federations which are developing sport globally.”
According to the IOC, "The ice hockey tournament at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 will nonetheless be a very exciting one, because the players from all the other professional ice hockey leagues will participate, and will be very much welcomed by their Olympic teams."
Working with the IIHF and national governing bodies USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, the U.S. and Canada will fill their rosters with top college stars, amateurs and players not on NHL rosters.
NBCUniversal, which has exclusive U.S. TV rights to the Olympics through 2032, recently said that the upcoming Winter Games would for the first time be broadcast live to all time zones.
Hockey has been among the top ratings attractions, dating back to the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. gold medal winning hockey team in 1980, which was comprised of top college players and coached by Herb Brooks, who was head coach at the University of Minnesota at the time.
"The league's efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. It is doing so after the financial issues . . . have been resolved."
More recently at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, when Canada defeated the U.S. , 3-2, on an overtime goal by Sidney Crosby, with both teams (and others in the hockey tournament) laden with NHL players.
Canada defended its gold medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
"The Olympics have long been the world’s greatest international hockey tournament irrespective of whether professionals or amateurs are playing," NBCU said in a statement.
"Although we’re disappointed that NHL players will not get the chance to experience and compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics next February, we’re confident that hockey fans and Olympic viewers will tune in to watch the unique style of play that occurs at the Olympic Winter Games when athletes are competing for their country," according to NBCU.
This is not the first time the NHL and IOC have butted heads.
In the months leading to the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, league and Olympic officials could not resolve there differences, leading Bettman to pull players from Winter Games participation.
"After consulting with the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, it is clear that the issues relating to NHL players participating in the 1994 Olympics cannot be adequately resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned under the current time constraints," Bettman said in a statement 23 years ago. "All parties have agreed that it will be their goal to ensure the participation of NHL players by 1998."
With the 2022 Winter Olympics already slated for Beijing, the IOC and IIHF realize they must move forward with the possibility that the NHL would not participate in those Games.
"In light of the NHL’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the IIHF will discuss with the participating teams the best way forward and move on with preparations for PyeongChang 2018," René Fasel, president for the IIHL, said in a statement.
"We have to remember that some of the greatest Olympic moments didn’t involve NHL players at all. We will move forward and continue preparations for PyeongChang. We still have the task to promote and build our game in Asia, and we will work hard towards this," said Fasel.
Tom Renney, Hockey Canada president and CEO, was among those disappointed in the NHL’s decision not to have its players participate
"(This) is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players," said Renney, “This does not change our preparation for the Games — we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward."
Global Olympic Games sponsors include Alibaba, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Dow, GE, McDonald’s, Omega, Panasonic, Procter & Gamble, Samsung, Toyota and Visa.
Bridgestone is an official NHL marketing partner in North America, Visa is a partner in Canada.
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