Line In The Sand: NHL Announces It Will Not Participate In '18 PyeongChang Games
The NHL yesterday announced that it will not participate in the '18 PyeongChang Games, ending "five consecutive cycles of NHL participation at the Olympics that started" in '98, according to Fluto Shinzawa of the BOSTON GLOBE. The league in a statement said "no meaningful dialogue has materialized" between itself and the IOC. The NHLPA in a statement said the players are ‘‘extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision." The statement read, "This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/4). The NHLPA statement continued, "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. ... It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/3). The IOC issued a statement saying, "This must be a huge disappointment for the players who definitely wanted to play. The decision is even more regrettable, as the [IIHF] had offered the same conditions to the NHL as at previous Olympic Games." The IOC added, "Players from all the other professional ice hockey leagues will participate" (IOC). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted the league had been "looking for conciliatory offers" from the IOC and/or NHLPA in order to "placate an ownership group increasingly unhappy with the league shutting down for weeks every four years to take part in the Olympic tournament" (ESPN.com, 4/3). In DC, Neil Greenberg reports the NHL "wanted to get closure on the topic before the Stanley Cup playoffs" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/4).
WITHOUT YOU: IIHF President Rene Fasel said, "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" (ESPN.com, 4/3). But in N.Y., Ben Shpigel writes some of the more memorable moments in Olympic hockey history "have involved NHL players" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/4). In L.A., Helene Elliott notes the U.S. roster "could be composed of minor leaguers or pros based in Europe" (L.A. TIMES, 4/4).
STILL TIME? TSN.ca's Frank Seravalli noted some were left wondering yesterday if the NHL's announcement "actually left a crack in the door for one of the interested parties to reengage." But it would "take a seismic, last-second shift by one of the stakeholders -- either the IOC, IIHF, NHLPA or NHL television partner NBC -- to bring the NHL back into the fold." The NHL reportedly "sent a memo to all 30 teams" yesterday "instructing them to not comment on potential individual participation in the Olympics" (TSN.ca, 4/3). PyeongChang Organizing Committee spokesperson Nancy Park said that "there’s still time for 'meaningful discussions,'" adding that POCOG is "hopeful that a 'solution will be found for 2018'" (AP, 4/3). The L.A. TIMES' Elliott writes there is "time to reach a deal that might give the NHL some revenues or promotional rights, but this is the strongest language the league has used regarding its plans" (L.A. TIMES, 4/4). NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe noted there was the “potential for negotiation,” but it did not seem like there was a "ton of constructive talks happening" (“NHL Tonight,” NHL Network, 4/3).
IT'S NOT PERSONAL, IT'S BUSINESS: POSTMEDIA NEWS' Mike Zeisberger cited an anonymous NHL exec as saying NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is "going to take the heat on this, but people need to remember that he represents the owners." The source added, "He’s just doing their bidding" (POSTMEDIA NEWS, 4/3). YAHOO SPORTS' Josh Cooper cited a team management source who said, "There was zero positive on the business side for the owners to want to go. The previous plan to expand interest in the game using the Olympics never came close to materializing, therefore unless the union was going to give something back there was no chance" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/3). NHL Network’s Jaffe said this is "completely, simply about business and who does it benefit the most." Jaffe: "Right now, the owners don’t think that it benefits them enough to shut down" (“NHL Tonight,” NHL Network, 4/3). In Toronto, Damien Cox sarcastically writes NHL players "cared so much about the Olympics they didn’t bother to insist on guaranteed participation in the last collective agreement discussions." In "theory, the Olympics 'grew' the game," but in "practice, the owners just weren’t seeing it." That "doesn’t make their position on this morally right or wrong." Cox: "Just a cold, logical business decision." Had NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and his union been "willing to sit down and bargain this immediately, the players might still be going." But the union "wasn’t willing to bargain or sacrifice anything" (TORONTO STAR, 4/4). NHL Network’s Elliotte Friedman said this “probably comes up as a collective bargaining issue in the future. It hasn’t been in the past, it will become one now” (“NHL Tonight,” NHL Network, 4/3).
CUTTING THE CHORD: SPORTSNET.ca's Elliotte Friedman wrote, "I never thought they'd do it. ... This is bad." While it is "not so easy to pick the villain," no one was "willing to compromise." Sources said that another recent attempt was "made to have the NHL receive some portion of the television rights/sponsorship for hockey, but that didn’t go anywhere" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/3). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur writes, "The NHL will wear this, and deserves to wear this." The league "believes it isn’t helped by a South Korean Olympics." Owners "don’t often think big unless they’re trying to get public arena-building money." Arthur: "As far as the hockey goes, they think small" (TORONTO STAR, 4/4).
AS BAD AS IT SEEMS? The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek writes Olympic hockey fans' "knee-jerk response was predictable: It will be a disaster." Duhatschek: "But really, is it?" The league "fully understands the backlash coming from Canada." History shows that "short-term anger has never done any lasting, long-term damage to the business of hockey" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/4). ESPN.com's Burnside wrote having the NHL tell the IOC and NHLPA to "'take a hike' is kind of refreshing." The IOC "bungled this from the get-go" and "chose to poke an unhappy bear." That "reveals an organization truly out of touch with its constituents: sports fans" (ESPN.com, 4/3).
INTO THE BOARDS: In Winnipeg, Ted Wyman writes this was a "punch in the gut to millions of hockey fans" (WINNIPEG SUN, 4/4). In N.Y., Brett Cyrgalis writes, "Chalk up another win for the NHL owners, and another loss for the players" (N.Y. POST, 4/4). Also in N.Y., Justin Tasch writes under the header, "No NHL Players In Olympics Is Huge Loss For Sport" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/4). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman writes this is "another major blow to the vitality" of the Olympics. It "won’t help" the USOC "curry favor with the IOC during the crucial months before the vote on the site" of the '24 Games. The decision also "sets up a showdown between the league and some of the NHL’s top stars." NHL agent Allan Walsh said, "This decision by the NHL flies in the face of common sense" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/4). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said this “lessens the Winter Olympics” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/3).
PLAYER REAX: Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who also coached Team Canada to consecutive Olympic Gold Medals, said, "I’m just going to tell you I’m disappointed" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/3). The DAILY NEWS' Tasch notes Sharks and former Team Canada D Marc-Edouard Vlasic yesterday after the news "tweeted out the logo" for the PyeongChang Games (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/4). Sabres F Jack Eichel said, "I know there’s probably guys who are frustrated with it and a little bit disappointed" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/4). Senators D Erik Karlsson said, "I don’t understand the decision. 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 obviously has no idea what they’re doing" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 4/4). Red Wings LW Henrik Zetterberg said, "I’m not real surprised." He believes the NHL "probably want something from us, as always" (DETROIT NEWS, 4/4). Sportsnet's Chris Johnston on Twitter wrote, "Have heard from a few players expressing doubt the 2018 Olympic issue is dead. The NHL says 'officially closed,' but some question that" (TWITTER.com, 4/3).
TWITTER REAX: Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist: "A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted." Former NHLer Brandon Prust: "Way to ruin the sport of hockey even more Gary." The Hockey News' Matt Larkin: "Real bummer. And the players will be bummed too. They wanted to go." The Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons: "Department of We Don't Care About The Game or our Fans: NHL not sending players to the Olympics." SB Nation's Achariya Tanya Rezak: "Wonder how Korean NHL fans feel about this Olympics decision? If a first reaction is to think there aren't any, the NHL is doing it wrong."
LEAGUE-WIDE LEGISLATION? The CP notes the NHL's decision is "going to create months of debate and some lasting bitterness," and Olympic participation "could be a sticking point" in the next CBA (CP, 4/3). In DC, Isabelle Khurshudyan notes while the decision will have a "ripple effect across the NHL, no team will be under the spotlight more" than the Capitals. LW Alex Ovechkin has said that he "would represent Russia regardless of if the rest of the NHL joins him." Owner Ted Leonsis has "backed Ovechkin publicly on more than one occasion" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/4). NHL Network’s Friedman said Russian players are the "ones that feel the most pressure to go" (“NHL Tonight,” NHL Network, 4/3). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote the NHL is "going to have two options, and is considering both: Leaving it up to individual teams to decide if their star players go to the Olympics, with some repercussions from a league level; or creating some league-wide legislation that would effectively 'ban' players from leaving for the Olympics, with severe consequences" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/3).
DON'T ADJUST YOUR SET: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen asks, "How will this impact the NHL’s relationship with NBC?" The net "can’t be happy that USA’s PyeongChang roster will include NHL washouts or college players." Allen: "No winners, only losers, came out of the NHL decision not to send players to the Olympics" (USA TODAY, 4/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Wyshynski wrote this "hurts NBC’s Olympic coverage; but depending on how Team USA does, it might not humble it" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/3).