EDMONTON — Connor McDavid left the question out there for interpretation.
He wasn’t going to be the first one to assert that the National Hockey League is reneging on the promise of Olympic participation. He doesn’t fancy himself as the players’ policeman or see his role as the league’s top player including a portfolio as its top complainant as well.
But McDavid’s recounting of the facts said it all when asked about the Beijing Olympics this coming February.
He wants to play for Team Canada, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the players he’d make that happen, and now McDavid — and the rest of the NHL Players’ Association — is standing arms crossed, tapping a collective foot.
"When we signed our last CBA the players were really pushing for a commitment from the league to allow us to go to the Olympics. It’s my understanding that we got that commitment, and the league was going to do everything in its power (to facilitate that)," McDavid said on Wednesday. "As players, we’re expecting to go. As players, we’re expecting the league to make that happen."
The NHL’s top performer is on the bench on this one, waiting for Bettman and his right-hand man Bill Daly to put this puck in the net.
McDavid was speaking the day after winning his second Hart Trophy, only the second time the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association voters had unanimously picked the winner since Wayne Gretzky won in 1982. With his second Hart, his third Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer, and his third Ted Lindsay Award, a vote among NHL players for the most outstanding player in the NHL, it was a mighty haul for McDavid in 2021.
But other than the Stanley Cup, the hardware he covets most dearly is an Olympic gold medal.
"For me, I’ve never been before and I’m fully planning on going (in February) — if I’m lucky enough to make the team," he said. "To represent my country at the Olympics would be so special."
Only two days earlier, however, Bettman cast some doubt on the journey, a dose of shade that did not go unnoticed by McDavid and his brethren.
Sure, the NHL bases its decision on the economics of shutting down their game for two weeks, travel costs, insurance and other monetary factors. As players, however, McDavid and his colleagues have watched one Winter Olympics go unattended by the NHL in 2018 (South Korea), and are looking skeptically as negotiations between the league and the International Olympic Committee drag on slowly.
"We have real concerns about whether or not it’s sensible to be participating," Bettman said during his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final session with the media on Monday. "We’re already past the time that we hoped this would be resolved."
Bettman said the league would release its schedule prior to the July 23 draft — with or without an Olympic break built in.
"We’ll deal with it, just as we’ve managed to be agile and flexible over the last 15 months," the commissioner said. "But we’re getting to be on a rather short time frame now because this can’t go on indefinitely."
Should the NHL fail in its negotiations, you can expect a steady stream of superstars to speak out against the decision. And with a deadline of the July draft, the drumbeats are beginning on the horizon.
"The Olympics is one of the biggest dreams of mine, and I haven’t been able to participate in one. This might be the last chance I get so, uh, that sucks to hear," said Tampa’s Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, when informed of Bettman’s quote Tuesday. "When you get an opportunity to represent your country on the biggest stage it is one of those things you will never forget. For me, it is something I have been dreaming about my whole life. Something I want to do before I hang up the skates."
McDavid had just turned 13 when his minor hockey team gathered at one of the player’s homes to watch Sidney Crosby score the Golden Goal in 2010. He was 17 and playing junior in Erie when Carey Price shut out the Swedes 3-0 to win gold.
He missed his chance to debut in 2018, and if Bettman and the IOC can’t make peace, he’ll be robbed of a second Olympic Games this February.
So, McDavid is watching and waiting.
"As players we were under the impression the league was going to do everything in its power, and that we will be going," he said. "It sounds like it’s kind of going back a little bit, but I’m sure they’ll find a way to get it done."
Tap, tap, tap…