NHL will not participate in 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games

The NHL will not participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, deciding to make the announcement now so it doesn’t overshadow the playoffs, Sportsnet has learned.

On Monday afternoon the NHL released the following statement:

“We have previously made clear that, while the overwhelming majority of our Clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL’s participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018.

And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the Clubs. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 Regular Season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.”

NHLers first went to the Games in 1998 in Nagano, and continued to do so through Sochi 2014. But negotiations toughened following Turin in 2006. One week after those games, late Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider publicly said he didn’t see the value in attending overseas Olympics, since the time difference kept hockey off North American television in prime hours. The NHL is the only major sports league that stops for the Olympics.

That was not a problem in Vancouver for 2010, but there were intense discussions prior to Sochi. The NHL scored a victory when the International Olympic Committee agreed to pay the players’ insurance and travel costs, at a cost of approximately $14 million. That was a huge concession, but the IOC refused to extend that olive branch a second time.

Last fall, IIHF president Rene Fasel announced his organization would step up in the IOC’s place, but the NHL balked. The league didn’t want money earmarked for developing the game worldwide to be used for this. And, even more importantly, the NHL and many of its owners wanted the money to come from the IOC directly. After all, the Olympics are making money off hockey and the NHL felt very strongly the organization should pay.

As John Shannon reported last month, the NHL tried to negotiate some financial compromise. It asked for the IOC to “buy” a home date or two from each team. Failing that, the league wanted to be named an official Olympic supplier or sponsor, so it could attach and use the world-famous “rings” to its own brand.

That was also rejected.

According to sources, another recent attempt was made to have the NHL receive some portion of the television rights/sponsorship for hockey, but that didn’t go anywhere, either.

Watching New York Islanders star John Tavares suffer a serious injury at Sochi only underlined for the owners their need to be compensated for sending their players to future Games.

The NHL also asked the Players’ Association to guarantee it would not opt out of the current CBA, thereby extending it to its full term in 2022. The players declined, saying they believe they should not have to give up anything in exchange for Olympic participation.

So here we are.

There are now two big unanswered questions.

One is what will happen with individual players. As a group, they will be disappointed and angry. Being an Olympian has become a huge honour among the group. They love going.

And while Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk has said he would not support Erik Karlsson playing in the Games, Washington’s Ted Leonsis said he will not stand in the way of his Capitals players, a team loaded with potential Olympians.

The second question is what impact, if any, this will have on the NHL’s participation in the 2022 Beijing Games. Last week the NHL announced it will play a pair of exhibition games in China as part of a long-term strategy to tap into that giant market.

The Chinese government, with help from the NHL, is making major investments in hockey infrastructure leading up to the 2022 Games. The Chinese may have a big say in whether we see NHLers return to the Olympics for 2022.

Could this decision possibly be re-visited? God only knows, and I guess you never say never. But, is there something still to be offered up that hasn’t already been denied?

In the meantime, as a hockey fan I’m disappointed, but at the end of the day I also understand that this is business.