Add Connor McDavid to the list of players urging the NHL to reconsider its current position on the 2018 Olympics.
“NHL players should be there and I certainly hope they are there,” McDavid said after Sunday’s NHL all-star game in Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of people higher up than me that are going to be figuring that one out, but 100 per cent they should go.
“I can’t picture an Olympics without [NHL players] to be honest.”
McDavid has yet to represent Team Canada on the Olympic stage, but would be a shoo-in for the 2018 Games in South Korea.
Whether he’ll get that opportunity almost one year from now is unclear and looking increasingly grim. The NHL remains reluctant to commit to attending the next Games in South Korea with deputy commissioner Bill Daly stating Saturday: “If the status quo remains I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics.”
The NHL’s board of governors met Saturday and spent about 10 seconds on the Olympics, according to commissioner Gary Bettman. The governors have expressed increasing angst against players returning to a sixth consecutive Games, opposed to shutting down their season in February for an event which they believe lacks in tangible benefit.
Toews hoping NHL will reconsider
Those players who have been to a Games hope they’ll reconsider.
“If you ask me, I don’t think you can really compare it to the World Cup or the world championships,” said Jonathan Toews, who won gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014. “The Olympics are a whole other thing.”
Toews couldn’t envision what Olympic hockey would look like without the very best representing their countries.
“I just feel like we’re misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale and a pretty huge level,” Toews said. “A lot of the talk has been it’s the players pushing for it, and it’s the players that are interested and want to go. I think the players do want to go, but I think it should be of interest to the players and the league. I think the NHL should be in the Olympics.”
“It would mean everything,” McDavid said of potentially playing for Canada in 2020. “Just to get the chance to chase down a spot on the team and have that opportunity, it’d be very special.”
Beyond the logistical hurdles that shutting down for the Olympics requires — a compressed schedule and greater risk of injury — the NHL isn’t convinced that attending actually benefits the league in the big picture. There was evidence, they’ve said, of an impact when the Games were in Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010), but not so much when they took place outside of North America in Nagano (1998), Turin (2006) and Sochi (2014).
Beijing in 2020 certainly has appeal with its massive audience. PyeongChang far less so.
At a stalemate
The owners also weren’t pleased when the International Olympic Committee said it would no longer subsidize the involvement of NHL players as it had since 1998.
“Certainly I think big-picture there’s obviously a lot of challenges to it,” said John Tavares, whose first Olympics in 2014 were cut short by injury. “But at the end of the day I think we as players love representing our countries and best-on-best hockey doesn’t happen very often. Those are things I think you really enjoy as a player and appreciate.”
The International Ice Hockey Federation has said it could come up with the out-of-pocket costs associated with NHL players attending — upwards of $10 million US according to Bettman — but the league is skeptical. Bettman reiterated Saturday that money was never the only issue.
“We said from the outset that if they’re not going to pay the expenses we don’t even have to think about this,” Bettman said.
“There were probably some owners over time who always thought the Olympics were a good idea,” he added. “There were some owners who always hated it and then there were probably a bunch of clubs that really didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said ‘We’re not going to pay the expenses.’ And then I think it caused a number of clubs to say ‘Well, wait a minute. If that’s how they value our participation, why are we knocking ourselves out?”‘
What exactly will convince the NHL to budge on letting its players attend isn’t clear, even to those involved.
“All I can tell you is if we’re going to hear the same thing I don’t think it’s going to move the ball,” Daly said.