Eric Adolphus, Staff Writer
The National Hockey League made a big stir this week when they announced that no players under contract with any team in the NHL will be able to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. This decision ended a five year run in which NHL players had the honor of representing their nation on the world’s biggest competitive stage. NHL owners have made it clear that they were against their players participating in the Olympics. While the league is all for players having the honor of representing their nation, it does disrupt the regular season for the NHL; there is a 17-day break in February for the league to accommodate the Olympic tournament. The commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman, was quoted saying, “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.”
The players do not take representing their country lightly, and they are essentially playing playoff level hockey in February, making them susceptible to injury. In the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, and Tomas Kopecky of the Florida Panthers each received season ending injuries. Losing your star player to an injury is frustrating from an owner’s standpoint, but can be heightened when the injury occurred when they were not even wearing the jersey for the team they represent, and understandably so.
While most fans and owners are happy with the decision to remove the participation of NHL players from the Olympic games, the news was not met with the excitement from the players. When asked if they favored their favorite NHL players participating in the Winter Olympics, an overwhelming 71 percent of American fans said they were against the participation, while 53 percent of Canadian fans were also against it. However, the NHL’s Player’s Association released a statement voicing their displeasure with the decision, saying “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.” This disagreement may cause a slight rift between players and owners, but the players are still under contract.
While it is a shame that many players who were hopeful to represent their country will no longer have the chance to do so, it does open the door for many amateur players to make themselves Olympic heroes. 20 years ago, it was considered normal for the American team to send a team of mostly college kids abroad to represent their nation. This decision by the NHL to not allow any more of their players in the Olympics is a controversial one to say the least, and it unquestionably gives the Russians and their KHL league an advantage. It’s possible that there will will be a repeat of 1980 at Lake Placid, where an unknown group of amateur Americans defeated a team of professional Russians in what is dubbed by many as the greatest upset in sports history. Let’s hope for another miracle on ice.
Update on 5/2/17: “Pyeonchang” was corrected to “PyeongChang”