NHL participation in the Olympics seems to be the topic du jour on most journées lately and one of the more vocal antagonists has been Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk.
“I’m completely paranoid, and rightfully so, about injuries,” Melnyk told Hockey Central at Noon Wednesday. “We had this happen to us. The Islanders, remember when they lost [John] Tavares? After that it was a disaster.
“At our level for example you lose these guys and you’re done and your fans are the ones that hurt the most because here they are cheering on [the team] talking playoffs then all of a sudden that sinks. I don’t have to tell you what happens when a key player gets knocked out of the games, so that’s my biggest worry.”
Melnyk still thinks back to when his team’s 2005-06 campaign was disrupted after Dominik Hasek suffered an adductor injury while representing the Czech Republic at the Games in Turin, Italy.
The Senators were the top team in the Eastern Conference and with Hasek in net they were considered a Stanley Cup frontrunner. Hasek had a 28-10-4 record, a 2.09 goals-against average and .925 save percentage—which put him on track to receive Vezina consideration that season—but Hasek wasn’t able to suit up for the Sens again. The team turned to backup Ray Emery, who had a 2.88 GAA and .900 save percentage in the playoffs and the Sens were eliminated in the second round. Hasek then left the organization in free agency, led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Final the following season and was a part of Detroit’s 2008 championship team.
Melnyk made headlines this past week when he said “it would be no, a flat no,” to possibly allowing Erik Karlsson to represent Sweden at Pyeongchang 2018 if the NHL abstains from the Games.
“It’s not like we’re adversarial about it. I just had a view and he’s got his view and I totally understand his view,” Melnyk said.
At just 26 years of age, Karlsson already has two Norris Trophies on his résumé with a potential third coming this season. Not only has the Senators captain nearly caught up to Brent Burns for the scoring lead among blueliners, but this season he has made a significant leap forward defensively. Hypothetically, if Karlsson suffered a significant injury during an Olympic tournament his absence from the Senators lineup would be hugely detrimental.
“To me, and our fans, it would be devastating to lose a player of that stature,” Melnyk said. “It really would. Both on the ice, in points and also the popularity of the player. I’m speaking as a fan myself. I would be depressed if something happened, even if it was only for a few weeks, it can make a difference in a schedule and [the team’s] performance.”
Melnyk added: “At the end of the day the NHL does have the override and if they decide that this is a policy that they’re going to take that’s it. They override everyone so, there’s no point in discussing it until that happens. After that we’ll see…I would support whatever the NHL comes down with. My vote, if it came down to a vote, and I think I’ve been verbal about it, is that I don’t like the Olympics because of the risk to our players.”