When the Winter Olympics take place this February in PyeongChang, South Korea it will do so with a noticeable lack of star power when it comes to ice hockey.
For the first time since 1994, no NHL players take part in the Olympic hockey tournament.
Earlier this year, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that the NHL won’t be taking part in the tournament, much to the chagrin of several players who had expressed their desire to represent their home countries on one of the world’s largest stages.
While the door remains ajar for the NHL to return to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, there doesn’t appear to be strong interest in the return from either the NHL or the IOC (International Olympic Committee). Realistically, it could be 12 years minimum before the world’s best hockey players are allowed to compete against each other at the Olympics.
The NHL has been to the Olympics five times, starting with Nagano in 1998, and according to the league, they’ve seen virtually no benefit to participating.
The 1998 games in Nagano and in Torino in 2006 did little to advance the game’s popularity in either Japan or Italy, and the league has argued that the games have hurt them more than anything else.
The extended break in the middle of an already lengthy 82 game hockey season (plus playoffs) is of no benefit they argue. Insurance and travel costs have been a major sticking point in the failed talks between the NHL and IOC this time around, as owners grapple with the potential loss of star players.
It’s a valid concern, as the last Olympics in Sochi caused season-ending injuries for New York Islanders captain John Tavares, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, and Florida Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky. On top of that Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin and New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello all missed multiple games due to injuries sustained at the Sochi Olympics.
Nonetheless, many players have publicly voiced their disappointment with the decision not to allow NHL players into the Olympics.
Brian Gionta, the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens, went so far as to reject an NHL contract offer this summer so he could take a shot at a gold medal with Team USA.
Shane Doan, who retired this summer, said he also considered lacing up the skates one more time for Team Canada, but ultimately decided he wouldn’t be able to put in the commitment necessary.
Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin had previously stated that he would play even if the NHL deal fell through, but in September he was forced to admit it wasn’t going to happen.
He said he looked forward to the 2022 Olympics but it’s far from certain the NHL will play their either.
Bettman has said publicly that it’s hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense to send players to the Olympics.
Although the NHL has been pushing to gain popularity in China, Bettman said it’s unlikely the NHL would be interested in anything outside of North America.