TORONTO – Imagine spending a lifetime working towards the height of your profession, only to be told that one of the biggest perks of the position is gone.
Now imagine being Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand right now – among the NHL leaders in goals (37) and points (79), the newly minted NHL first star of the week – and hearing league officials continue to publicly raise doubts about whether they’ll allow players to go to the Olympics next year in Pyeonchang, South Korea.
“For athletes to get themselves to that level where they can have the opportunity to play in the Olympics and then for someone to take that away from you, I don’t think that’s really fair,” Marchand said Monday before Boston played Toronto.
The 28-year-old got his first taste of best-on-best competition at the World Cup, where he wound up playing on Team Canada’s top line and scoring the tournament-winning goal.
He’ll be considered a virtual lock to make his Olympic debut in 2018 if a deal is reached to send NHL players to their sixth straight Games.
That’s a testament to how well Marchand is currently playing and the way he thrived on a line with Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron at the World Cup. Leafs coach Mike Babcock formed that trio and joked on Sunday that it was responsible for a season that has put Marchand in the Hart Trophy conversation.
“He better remember that when the Olympics come around this year,” said Marchand.
Negotiations between the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and International Ice Hockey Federation about the Pyeonchang Games have stretched on for months.
There has been no apparent progress.
At issue is the fact the International Olympic Committee is no longer willing to cover travel and insurance costs for players. It is widely believed that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is intent on getting something in return for shutting down the season and releasing the players – a deal that hasn’t emerged so far.
“There is absolutely nothing new,” Bettman said earlier this month. “I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”
That isn’t sitting too well with players.
At the NHL all-star game, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said an Olympics without the NHL would be “misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale.” Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek expressed frustration last week when he told reporters: “It’s stupid and I find it absolutely ridiculous.”
Even Babcock, who coached Team Canada to gold at the last two Olympics, lent his support to the cause.
“I think it’s really important,” Babcock said Monday. “I think getting your name on the Stanley Cup is something you dream about, and playing for your country in the Olympics – playing best-on-best – there’s no better event. Just there is none. So to have that opportunity, I think it’s important.
“I think it’s important to showcase your game every year – just not to pick and choose when it’s your turn and you’d like to go. I think it’s important, but I don’t own any teams.”
Unfortunately, neither does Marchand.