The NHL announced Monday that it will not participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, ending a run of five consecutive Winter Olympics with NHL players.
"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, etc.) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject," the NHL said in a statement. "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."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said in the past several months that the owners were against Olympic participation for a variety of reasons. Chief among them was the 17-day break in the schedule required in February, a time when the National Football League's season has ended and Major League Baseball's season has yet to begin.
"I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our Board now and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said during NHL All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in January. "Quite frankly we don't see what the benefit is from the game standpoint or the League standpoint with respect to Olympic participation."
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The NHL conducted polls in both Canada and the United States to determine if fans were in favor of the League taking a break in February to allow players to compete in the Olympics. In the United States, 73 percent said they were not in favor. In Canada, it was 53 percent against the break.
"I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it's very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject," Commissioner Bettman said at the conclusion of the General Managers' meetings on March 8 in Boca Raton, Fla.
The NHL has participated in every Winter Olympics since 1998 with a total of 706 players attending, an average of 141 per season.
The IOC (International Olympic Committee) had been paying for the League's participation costs associated with travel, insurance and accommodations for the players and their guests, but told the NHL it will not continue to pay for those costs for the 2018 tournament.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel indicated his federation had the money to cover those costs, but Commissioner Bettman said there was concern the funds would come from assets that would otherwise be used to grow the game at the grassroots level.
In addition, Commissioner Bettman has said that many teams have been concerned about the impact Olympic participation has on the NHL season in terms of player injuries and the compressed schedule created by the break in February.
New York Islanders center John Tavares, Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg, Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov and former Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky each sustained a season-ending injury at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Zetterberg returned for two games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as the Red Wings lost to the Boston Bruins in five games in the Eastern Conference First Round.) Other players also sustained injuries that led to them missing games upon the resumption of the NHL schedule.
The variance of player participation from team to team has impacted the results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Olympic years.
For example, the Red Wings sent a League-high 10 players to the 2014 Sochi Olympics and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings sent six and won the Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche each sent 10 players to 2006 Torino Olympics and lost in the first and second round of the playoffs, respectively. The Carolina Hurricanes sent five and won the Stanley Cup.
"Having a compressed schedule can make the players more tired, more wear and tear, and the potential for injury is greater," Commissioner Bettman said at the Board of Governors meeting in December. "I think after doing five of these, I don't know, fatigue might be a word?"
The NHLPA, in a statement released Monday night, said "the players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL's shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics.
"Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season's schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
"A unique opportunity lies ahead with the 2018 and 2022 Olympics in Asia. The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.
"Moreover, it is doing so after the financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF. The League's efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL's decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans."