Despite Alex Ovechkin’s repeatedly stated intention to defy the NHL and represent Russia in the upcoming Winter Olympics, it is looking less and less likely the Washington Capitals captain even will be given the chance to do so. On Wednesday, Vladislav Tretiak, the head of the Russian Hockey Federation, said Ovechkin needs to accept he will be unable to participate, according to Russian news site R-Sport.
Tretiak’s comments follow NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently telling The Athletic that the league has assurance from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), which oversees international competitions, that NHL players under contract won’t be allowed to participate in the PyeongChang Games, scheduled for February.
“What is there for Ovechkin to do now? Nothing. Play for Washington,” Tretiak told R-Sport, as translated by The Washington Post. “He has to accept that.”
Speaking to reporters in Russia last month, Ovechkin said “there’s always a chance” he’ll be allowed to participate. But those comments seemed subdued compared to those he made when the NHL first announced its decision not to allow its players to attend the Olympics as the league seeks to avoid a disruption of the regular season schedule.
“I didn’t change my mind, and I won’t,” Ovechkin said in April. “It’s my country. You know, I think everybody wants to play there, and it’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So I don’t know. Somebody going to tell me don’t go, I don’t care. I just go.”
When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about Olympic participation during the Stanley Cup finals in late May, he said, “We have an expectation that none of our players are going.” Asked specifically about repercussions for players such as Ovechkin who might want to challenge that, Bettman said he wouldn’t “pick that fight right now.”
Ovechkin captained Team Russia in the World Cup of Hockey last year, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has said he would support Ovechkin’s desire to represent his country. If Ovechkin were gone for the full duration of the Olympics — the hockey competition runs from Feb. 10-25 — he would miss at least nine Capitals games.
In a watered-down field without NHLers, Russia is expected to be the favorite to win gold, even if Ovechkin is barred from participating. It seems, most likely, that will be the case.