The NHL keeps delaying its decision on whether it will send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, but league officials aren’t thrilled about disrupting next season’s schedule for Games in a faraway market with a 14-hour time change.
Most of the players, however, want to go.
In exchange for allowing the players to compete in the Olympics, the league reportedly asked the players union to eliminate its opt-out option in 2019 and extend the labor agreement three years through the 2024-2025 season. No thanks, the union said.
There are also rumblings that the union will agree to stay home if the NHL made some concessions, such as reducing the amount of years it takes to get to free agency.
Don’t look for the NHL to budge, so the two sides appear to be at a stalemate.
The NHL would have to shut down for 2½ weeks next February if its players compete in their sixth straight Olympics.
From a marketing standpoint, the NHL hates the idea of being out of the public’s eye for such a long time.
From my standpoint, keep the players home. Send amateur players to the Games. I’d rather watch fuzzy-faced college kids try to bring home the gold. Now that the World Cup has returned, do we really need NHL players in a similar setting? The Olympics were supposed to be about amateurs who are on the way up. Remember?
Would the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” really have been so special if the many college players on that United States team were NHL stars instead of Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, et al?
From a financial standpoint, the estimated $10 million cost – it includes insurance, traveling, accommodations, and other fees – to send NHL players to South Korea had also been a sticking point. But Rene Fasel, president of the International Hockey Federation, told reporters Friday that the federation has come up with the money needed to cover travel and insurance costs for players.
While the NHL is undecided on whether it will participate in 2018, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said, “I support the players’ being there, but there are some pieces to the puzzle as far as the business side” that need to be put in place.
Not surprisingly, the NHL players want to compete. I get that and respect it.
“I think you should be able to represent your country,” Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “If the best players don’t go to the Olympics, I don’t think we represent our sport as much as we can.”
Provorov, 20, is hoping to make Russia’s team.
“It’s the country you were born in and there’s that extra feeling. It would be special. I can’t explain it, but I think you should be able to go,” he said. “Since Day One, I always dreamed of competing for the national team and playing in the NHL.”
Former Flyer Chris Pronger is an interesting bystander. He was a four-time Olympian for Canada and now works for the NHL’s player-safety department.
“I think all players want to represent their countries in the Olympics and try to win a gold medal,” said Pronger, who was at the Wells Fargo Center for captains night on Thursday. “As a player, you want to go. As a business, that’s not my decision. The problem is it’s in the middle of the season and we’re already complaining about travel and wear and tear on the players – and that’s only going to make it worse. And you’re going on an 18-hour flight. There’s lots of factors involved.”
Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas represented the Czech Republic in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“One hundred percent I’d like to represent my country again,” he said. ‘I think it’s an honor. Every player has pride in his country. The NHL is still having a debate about it with the [players association] and the owners, but I think every player wants to go.”
Interrupting the NHL season for 2½ weeks doesn’t hurt the non-Olympians, Gudas said, “because usually they get a week off and then they start practicing. Obviously, it’s not ideal not being in a game situation for those weeks, but it only happens every four years. It’s the Olympics.”
Gudas said that whatever the league decides, “I’m sure everyone is going to accept it.”
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, however, has said he will represent Russia no matter what the league decides. Others would undoubtedly follow his lead.
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is trying to stay neutral on whether NHL players should participate,
“It’s not really my call to make,” he said. “My only feeling on it is that it is a big stage for the league – for advertising how great our game is. From a selfish standpoint, I guess you say, ‘Let’s continue to play [our NHL season].’ From another standpoint, I think it’s good for the game” to go to the Olympics.
Hextall acknowledged that the interruption of the season hurts the NHL.
“I don’t think anybody wants the disruption, but it’s the Olympics and you deal with it,” he said.
The league needs to make a decision quickly because it has already started to work on the 2017-18 schedule.
The clock is ticking.