NHL will not go to Pyeongchang 2018

Bri Pomonis, Sports Co-Editor

For the first time since 1998, the National Hockey League (NHL) will not take a break during the 2017-18 season to allow players to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang, South Korea Winter Olympics. The decision created a slew of reactions from players and fans, but as of now, the Board of Governors firmly stands by its reasoning and considers the matter closed.

“Quite frankly, we don’t see what the benefit is from the game standpoint or the league standpoint with respect to Olympic participation,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

One of the biggest factors leading to this decision was the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) failure to pay for players’ travel, accommodations, and insurance. This has been a hefty expense for the IOC in past years—the bill from Sochi 2014 rang up to a whopping 10 million USD. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered to cover the costs, but was ultimately declined by the NHL, which cited the funds would be better used building the game at a “grassroots level.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claims the majority of owners and fans alike were against taking the 17-day break in February. A survey conducted by the NHL found 73 percent of Americans and 53 percent of Canadians were against halting play to accommodate. This is possibly due to the absence of other American league sports during this time; the MLB and NFL are both inactive during this time, severely limiting options for fans.

Halting play results not only in a loss of momentum for fans but for players as well.  The vast majority of league players are not rostered for international teams during Olympic play. A break potentially hurts the progress of many to allow a select few to play as few as three games abroad.

While playing for one’s country is one of the most prestigious honors in hockey, some have suffered season-ending injuries in doing so. New York Islanders center John Tavares and Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg sustained season-ending injuries in Sochi. Losing such talented players as playoffs approach hurts teams’ chances at clinching a contested spot.

Teams that have sent more players have repeatedly sunk during post-season play despite having a deep roster. The Detroit Red Wings sent a league-high 10 players to Sochi, but were bumped out during the first round of playoffs. Conversely, teams that have sent fewer tend to fair well. The Los Angeles Kings sent six players and ended post-season as Stanley Cup champions.

Despite several compelling reasons for players to abstain, several have expressed their outrage and plan to defy the league’s decision.

“I didn’t change my mind [on leaving to play in the Olympics], and I won’t. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games,” Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Team Russia said.

“It’s very unfortunate for the game of hockey around the world that they’re going to do this to the sport. I think it’s going to hurt a lot if we don’t end up going. Whoever made that decision has no idea what they’re doing,” Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators, who has been the league’s most vocal opponent to the decision, said.

The decision also limits the opportunities for emerging players to participate in what is hailed by many to be the biggest honor as a professional athlete. Young sensations such as Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers, Canada), Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, United States), and Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres, United States) will miss their first Olympic opportunity.

Even though the NHL has closed this issue, several fans and players continue to hope the league will reverse their decision before the puck drops in Pyeongchang. If not, the mystery of who will be on the ice remains.

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