Olympics may be lost for Team Canada’s ‘golden generation’

Steven Stamkos sits down with Elliotte Friedman to talk about playing for Team Canada at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey after not being able to play in Sochi and much more.

They have done so much winning in a Team Canada sweater that they’ll likely go down as the country’s golden generation.

How long that era lasts could end up being determined by factors beyond their control.

After this World Cup, there’s no telling when mainstays like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron and Drew Doughty will have an opportunity to play together again.

Looming large is a pending decision on whether NHLers return to the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February 2018. That should be determined in the next couple months but there are already plenty of warning signs that it won’t happen.

It’s not lost on the players that there are numerous issues and challenges associated with the event. Some have even made peace with the fact that the opportunity to compete for a third straight Olympic gold might be taken away from them.

“Obviously, I’d love to go to represent my country and to hopefully win another gold medal, but at the same time, if it doesn’t happen … I’m not going to be crushed over it, that’s for sure,” Doughty told Sportsnet on Tuesday.

It’s important to understand the context around his sentiment. The Los Angeles Kings defenceman made it clear that he loves wearing the Maple Leaf and playing on a big stage, but he’s not oblivious to the fact that travel and cost concerns might have created a chasm too large to be bridged.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman certainly sounded an alarm during his state of the league address at the Stanley Cup final in June, suggesting that new IOC president Thomas Bach’s desire to stop paying for the players’ travel, accommodations, and insurance was a deal-breaker for his league.

“I’m pretty sure our teams don’t want to pay for the privilege to disrupt our season,” Bettman said.

On Tuesday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated that there has been no progress on talks since those comments were made. The deadline to reach a decision is early January.

There is enough concern about the possibility NHLers will stop being made available for the Olympics that Hockey Canada has started working on a “Plan B” in case it happens. That organization will monitor European-based pros more closely this season because that might end up being the pool of players they’re drawing from for the 2018 Games.

It has been less of a front-burner issue for the NHL and NHL Players’ Association recently because they’ve been so focused on organizing the World Cup.

John Tavares, who loves international hockey and is an active NHLPA member, thinks things will “heat up” as soon as this tournament ends. He remains hopeful that a deal can be reached.

“There’s just so many factors that play into [the decision], and I think you have to understand that,” said Tavares. “You have to try to gather all of that information and weigh the pros and the cons. But obviously deep down, as an athlete, you want to be there.”

That opinion is shared by the vast majority of his peers.

“I’d love to go,” said Crosby. “I had a great experience there both times. To be able to play at home [in Vancouver in 2010] and to play in Russia – where hockey is really big, too – I think we feel pretty fortunate to have played in those.”

If anything, the uncertainty around 2018 adds an extra layer of intrigue to the World Cup.

This event is controlled entirely by the NHL and NHLPA – they’ll split revenues that are expected to exceed $100 million – and could eventually morph into a permanent replacement for the Olympic tournament.

While Team Canada coach Mike Babcock has made his feelings clear about the difference between the two – “The people that don’t [even] like sport watch the Olympic Games,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest events ever. If you get a chance to be involved in that, if you get the chance to visit it, if you get a chance to go to it, if you get the chance to compete in it, do it” – some of the players are willing to take a more wait-and-see approach.

“I think that maybe going through this will allow people to kind of see it from a different perspective,” said Crosby. “Whether that changes their mind or not, I guess we’ll have to see. I guess the more experience, the more information you can have making that decision, the better.

“I think regardless, everyone’s going to favour kind of one or the other. That might change based on how this event goes.”

It also serves as a reminder about not taking anything for granted.

The next best-on-best hockey tournament after this one might be staged four years from now rather than two. And as hard as it is to imagine today, some of the men who have worn our country’s colours with distinction might not be among the group that makes up that version of Team Canada.

“I hope these chances still keep coming,” said Doughty. “It’s such an honour to play for Team Canada and to be in this room with these guys. Yeah, I hope that it never ends. I hope the only way it does end is if I retire, and realistically that’s probably not the way it’s going to go.

“You never know when it could be your last time suiting up for Team Canada so you treat it as potentially your last.”