TORONTO – The bitterness of the National Hockey League’s decision to not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics still eats at the league’s reigning MVP.
The morning after Hockey Canada announced its management, coaching staff and development plan for its Pyeongchang men’s squad, Connor McDavid refused to hide his frustration.
“I’m really upset about it,” said McDavid, after participating at a lighthearted Rogers Cup promotional event with Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez Wednesday at Toronto’s Kew Garden Tennis Club.
“You want to be able to represent your country on the highest stage, and the Olympics is obviously the highest stage possible. To know that you might not be able to represent your country at the Olympics for another four years for sure. … Even if you’re able to in four years, it’s disappointing.”
McDavid led Canada to world junior gold in 2015 and world championship gold in 2016 but has never participated in a true international best-on-best at the senior level.
The expectation is that the NHL will be more interested in returning to the Olympic stage for 2022 in China.
Although McDavid and other young Canadian stars like Mark Scheifele, Nathan MacKinnon and Aaron Ekblad captured imaginations as young stars for Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the ’18 Games represented their first chance to play for Olympic gold.
Instead of dressing a star-studded group — imagine McDavid and Sidney Crosby as the top two centres — Canada must instead defend its title with a squad formed of international pros, AHLers, junior players and retired NHLers.
“I don’t think Team Canada will be able to put together a team like they’d be able to put together this year [if NHLers were permitted],” said McDavid, who won the Hart and Art Ross trophies in 2016-17.
“It would’ve been a special group, and you’re just hoping to be a part of it.”
Russian NHL stars Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are on record saying they will seek permission to participate anyway.
McDavid, who this summer inked the most lucrative contract in the salary-cap era, was asked if he’ll approach Edmonton Oilers ownership for permission to play.
“No, I’m not too involved in all that stuff. There’s a lot of guys who’ve been in the league a lot longer than I have and have a lot more pull than I do,” McDavid said. “You don’t want to leave your team for a month.
“It’s disappointing, but that’s the way it is.”