What will be the most notable fallout from the NHL’s decision not to go to the Olympics?
Craig Custance: As much as the NHL said it considered this case closed, there are definitely people on the players’ side who haven’t given up hope that an 11th-hour deal can still be struck. So perhaps the fallout is that the NHLPA or IOC will make an offer to include the players in the 2018 Olympics that the NHL can’t refuse. Anything short of that sets up another potential bitter CBA negotiation down the road and, with that, another lockout. Any notion that these two sides — the NHLPA and NHL — were partners in growing the game appear to be gone, thoughts of shared news conferences preceding the World Cup of Hockey a distant memory. You can already see the two sides retreating to their corners.
Matthew Coller: I keep seeing people say, “Where is the evidence that it grows the game?” Well, we might not have figures that show the Olympics-to-dollars ratio, but we do know this: Hockey fans love it. Having been in western New York when Ryan Miller led Team USA against Canada, all anyone wanted to talk about was the then-Buffalo Sabres‘ goalie putting on a show. And we will never forget Dominik Hasek‘s shootout save on Eric Lindros or Ryan Kesler‘s diving empty-netter or T.J. Oshie‘s epic shootout performance in Sochi. Memories like these solidify fans’ love of the game. It’s never as simple for any sports league as making a decision based on fans’ enjoyment, but this league should probably consider it more often because fans constantly feel alienated by decisions like this.
Corey Pronman: I’m intrigued from the labor and business standpoint of this. When the most recent CBA was signed in 2013, the two sides did not reach an agreement on the Olympics, so the players must have known this was a real possibility. Now that the shoe has dropped, is there retaliation? Does the NHLPA say no to the next World Cup of Hockey? Does it threaten a future work stoppage unless the Olympics are guaranteed? Do top Russian players decide the NHL isn’t worth it to them and go to the KHL? Does a top free agent such as, say, Kevin Shattenkirk, sign a one-year deal in Switzerland? The NHL has operated from a position of strength the past 20 years in labor talks. It will be interesting to see if this is the last straw for players.
Pierre LeBrun: Well, the NHL nearly un-canceled a canceled season in 2004-05, meeting players in an emergency meeting a week after actually announcing the entire season was toast. Nothing came of it, of course, but it’s a reminder to never say never. In this case, however, it means the NHL is serious that it is indeed not going, not unless the players promise labor peace, and/or the IOC made business concessions to the NHL. And I just don’t see it. Again, the players don’t understand why they should give up anything to do what’s right for the sport itself, and I find it hard to not agree with them. What’s going to be interesting now is how top players feel about playing ball with the NHL on future endeavors. How do you ask Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews to play in a bunch of meaningless All-Star Games after ripping out their Olympic hearts? I get the business side for NHL owners; they really don’t make any money from the Olympics and risk injury to their players. But the bigger view, selling the sport itself on the biggest stage of all — that’s worth something on some level. Everyone loses out with the best players out of the best tournament.
Scott Burnside: I’ve been lucky enough to cover three Olympics in which NHL players have taken part. We tend to romanticize them, but often the hockey, especially on international-size rinks, is pedestrian at best. And that’s with the world’s best players chasing after the puck. I’m curious to see how the public responds to watching former NHLers or collegiate players try to inject drama into the proceedings in South Korea in the middle of the night for much of North America. My guess is the novelty is going to wear off pretty quickly and the 2018 Olympic hockey tournament will quickly become a footnote, the answer to a trivia question but hardly the stuff of a must-watch or must-follow sporting event. And I think that apathetic response to what will be a greatly diminished product, especially with the NHL still a viable option for hockey fans in North America, will pave the way for the NHL to return to the Beijing Games in 2022 — which is what the league wanted all along.
Joe McDonald: We’ve all heard this answer time and again from NHLers: “Everyone wants to play at that level.” The best hockey players in the world want to represent their countries, and they should be able to. Team Sweden gold-medal goaltender Henrik Lundqvist believes the Olympics is still the biggest platform for the NHL to grow the game and expose it to new fans outside of North America. Asia is a huge market for the league. When commissioner Gary Bettman said he considers this issue closed, he’s speaking on behalf of the owners, and I don’t think the league will change its mind on this one. If this stands, it’s going to cause damage to the game.
Rob Vollman: While it’s obviously disappointing not to see another great best-on-best competition, there are some positive aspects to the NHL’s decision to not participate in the Olympics. Not only could it make the tournament more competitive, but it will shine the spotlight on players who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to display their talents.