Greed and power are winners in Olympic ice hockey battle


Some of the best hockey players in the world won't be there, at least those of the male variety.

The best women will, though that hardly serves as consolation for both NBC and organizers of the upcoming Olympics in South Korea.

There's finally some clarity to the Olympic hockey competition, after weeks of anxious negotiations on the part of the women and apparently no negotiations for the superstar NHL players who are now facing the very real possibility they won't be wearing national uniforms in February.

Or maybe there isn't, at least on the part of the men. Several players believe the NHL is bluffing about its decision not to participate in the Games, even though the league said there will be no new negotiations with Olympic officials.

"I think the situation was the same before Sochi (in 2014)," Alex Ovechkin said. "They try to do some deals ... I'm pretty sure everything is going to be fine. They just want to some big story about it."

The big story as it stands is that the NHL will not shut down for three weeks as it has done in recent Olympics so players can skate for their countries. The reasons given weren't exactly clear, but what is clear is that the NHL wanted more for interrupting its season than Olympic or International Ice Hockey Federation officials were willing to give.

That sets up a potentially messy situation early next year if some players decide to risk the wrath of the league and play anyway, as Ovechkin has threatened to do.

"It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games," the Washington Capitals' star said. "Somebody going to tell me I don't go. I don't care, I just go."

As so often happens in these types of affairs, the culprits are greed and power. As so often happens in these types of affairs, the fans are the bigger losers.

Short sighted, yes. But don't put anything past a group of owners who cancelled an entire season a few years back to show the players who really is in charge.

Imagine the Russian team without Ovechkin, or the Canadians without Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, whose overtime goal in 2010 in the gold medal game in Vancouver was better than anything in Olympic hockey since a motley band of American college players upset the Soviet Union team in Lake Placid in 1980.

"Growing up, watching Sweden in the Olympics and the men's hockey, our whole high school stood still," Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "Olympics, that's what a lot of kids dream about."

They also dream about making millions of dollars, something that can't be done without the cooperation of the NHL. And there's no reason to believe the league will allow some players to take a leave of absence to play for their flag and country at a time teams are fighting for playoff seeding.

There's no winner here, though the real losers are the fans who love the idea of stars playing for their country as much as they love their favorite NHL team. They will be deprived of the best hockey at the Olympics, which have featured pro players since the 1998 games in Japan.

The NHL's decision clearly angered players, who rejected an offer by the league last year to carve out space for the Olympics if players would agree to extend their collective bargaining agreement for another three years. The NHLPA said in a statement that players are "extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL's shortsighted decision."

Barring a reversal by the NHL, though, player options are limited. Though Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said he would be fine with letting Ovechkin and other players go, the league as a whole isn't going to tolerate star players leaving during the middle of the season.

The biggest wild card might be to see how NBC reacts to it. The network — which has billions invested in both the Olympics and the NHL — issued a statement saying it was confident there would be enough good players for the Olympics, but took no public side in the dispute.

At least NBC will be able to showcase the best women's hockey players, something that was in doubt before the U.S. women ended a brief holdout last week in a bid to make enough money to live on. They don't make much more than NHL players get in meal money in the new deal, but at least they will be in uniform in Pyeongchang.

Right now that's about the only certain thing about hockey in the Olympics.

© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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This is all on the IOC! They want the best players to go and play, shut down the league for three weeks, which no other professional league does, and they want it all for free! There is your greed. In the last Olympics, John Taveras the star player who plays for the New York Islanders got injured and cost his team a chance at the playoffs. Teams are not going to risk their best players when they get nothing in return, and have to foot the bill to send them there! The complicating factor is China, where the NHL wants to go for the next games, but if they pull out now, it will be hard to return for the 2022 games.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is all on the IOC!

Right on Mark. I wonder how much TIM DAHLBERG was paid by the IOC to write this crap for them.

There’s no winner here, though the real losers are the fans who love the idea of stars playing for their country as much as they love their favorite NHL team.

This doesn't even make sense. The NHL is an American/Canadian professional sports league. Most NHL players are from Canada, 68%, then the US, 13%, then other countries. I wonder how many European Ice hockey fans follow the NHL because one of their players is on a team. I could understand the Europeans wanting to go home and play for their country. But the US and Canada? I'm sure they could field enough non-professionals or semi-pros to have a valid team.

But ultimately, this is a Cold War reboot when the Soviet Union was fielding their pros back in the 60's, 70's and 80's and winning the gold, while the US and Canada relied on amateurs. Now that Russia has the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), their version of the NHL, the IOC could easily stipulate no PAID professionals, or professional leagues, and IMO, things will be balanced out. Is it really NHL greed, or IOC selfishness?

IMO, bringing together a team of non-pros and a coach who don't know each other, whipping them into a team, and doing their best in an Olympic sport is much more honorable and exciting than raking in the top PAID pro players on the planet for IOC selfishness. Whatever happened to the honor of "if you're a professional athlete, you can't compete in the Olympics"?

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

It's only a minor sport so who cares?

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

bobsap, it is the biggest money maker for the Olympics TV revenue wise! What is absolutely unbelievable is that the IOC wants the NHL to send its best, play for country and flag, for free, but they don't even get to use any of the footage or promote the games on their websites or at games. The golden goal by Sidney Crosby in the Vancouver Olympics will never be seen again, unless the IOC allows it! I'm not fan of the owners in the NHL, but in this case I agree with them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Good one, FizzBit. I, for one, think any professional athlete, regardless of the sport, should not be able to compete in the Olympics. This whole mess was the IOC's making, and they deserve the crap they're getting for the decision they made decades ago. Frankly, I've given up watching the Olympics. It's nothing but theatre-of-the-overly-paid.

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