After months of speculation and “negotiations” the National Hockey League has decided that it will not allow players to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision comes at no surprise to anyone because of the toll the Olympics takes on the NHL every four years by teams essentially getting two weeks off in the middle of the season and players risking season ending injuries (i.e. John Tavares’ season ending leg injury in 2014). So while they are not shutting down for two weeks next year and thus won’t be losing any money as in Olympic years previous, this move will ultimately hurt their pocketbook in years to come.
Playing in the Olympics does more than allow NHL players to represent their countries, it’s actually serving as a way to bring global attention to said players, which brings global attention to the NHL. This global attention could potentially bring in new companies that want to sponsor the NHL as a way to introduce their companies into the United States market, which can equal big bucks for the league. Said big bucks would make up for the money the NHL loses by having the Olympic break.
So how can you expect to grow the game into a global entity, when you’re not showcasing your league’s best players on such a large global stage?
Besides the financial losses the NHL is going to take from not growing the sport of Hockey across the globe, they face another and possibly bigger problem with players still wanting to play for their counties in 2018. Washington Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin has already publicly stated multiple times that no matter what the NHL says, he still plans to play for Russia in the 2018 games and fellow Russia countryman, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins has said that he will seek permission from the Penguins to play in the 2018 Games. The Chicago Tribune also reported that Russia has also announced plans to try and keep Kontinental Hockey League players from leaving for the NHL and even wants to lure NHL free agents back to the KHL next season so that they can still play in the Olympics. Which may not seem like a bad thing, but considering the great players the NHL has lured from the KHL that could also serve to hurt the league as well.
It should be noted that the NHL is still open to letting players play in next Winter Games, but by then the financial damage will already be done. It will be interesting to see how many NHL players actually defy the league and represent their home countries in the 2018 games.