Rumors had been circulating for a while. The question on most NHL players’ minds was if the league will allow players to compete in the 2018 Olympics?
On Monday, they got the answer.
The National Hockey League will not stop playing for three weeks next February. Seeing no conciliatory offers from either the International Olympic Committee or the NHL Players’ Association, the ownership group made their decision.
Now the world will not get to see the best players in the world compete in the grandest of stages. For the first time since Nagano 1998, the world’s top hockey league will not take part.
Who will now suit up for teams, especially the U.S.A. and Canada, will be the biggest question mark.
It also means that the youth movement currently taking place in the NHL will not get to go to South Korea. Big name players like Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid, all who have not competed in the games, are left in the cold.
“It’s my first chance at making the Olympic team. It’s pretty disappointing,” Detroit Red Wings center David Larkin summed it up.
It is disappointing for the fans as well. The Olympics have been the place to see the best players in the world go to compete. The quality of hockey is high, leading to great viewing.
Two more question marks pop up for the league. The first how viewership numbers will be affected?
In past Olympic cycles, there has not been a bump in NHL ratings. This was one of the reasons for the league to pull their players. While the Olympic numbers themselves are higher than average NHL games, they fail to carry over.
The other question is, how the players will respond?
Before the decision, many players said they will still like to participate in the games. Now, many have question marks on whether if they will decide to leave their teams.
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has made it clear he still wants to go.
“Yeah, I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” Ovechkin said. “Because it is my country.”
It also seems like the NHL doesn’t see the Olympics as a way to grow the game. Along with that, there could be the possibility that the choice will harm the sports.
It is never a good idea to alienate fans. When the record for a hockey game on NBCSN was the U.S.A.-Russia shootout in 2014 there is some proof that people watch the Olympics.
As for growing the game outside of North America, the NHL will miss on a chance to capitalize on a chance of growth in a large open market. Asia is not known as a hotbed of hockey fandom, but that could change.
NHL announced last week there will be two preseason games between Vancouver and Los Angeles in China. Instead of sending their players to solidify the league’s position in the Far East, they will have them stay at home.
There is a chance that this miscue could cause more damage for the league. If the players revolt, there could be more issues on hand. That could possibly lead to more issues in the next collective bargaining agreement, and the last thing the NHL needs is another lockout.