Since 1998, NHL players have been participants in the Winter Olympics held every four years. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the media at the NHL All-Star Game that he does not anticipate players participating next year. Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis thinks otherwise.
After saying numerous times that he will not prevent captain Alex Ovechkin from representing Russia in South Korea next year, Leonsis has also granted superstar center Nicklas Backstrom permission to play for Team Sweden, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 2, 2017
The Capitals have been well-represented in the Winter Olympics in the last few Winter games, as Backstrom, Ovechkin, and defenseman John Carlson participated in the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.
Ovechkin has already stated that he will participate in the 2018 games even if the NHL prohibits its players from doing so. And as mentioned above, Leonsis, one of the most influential owners in the league, has given his players the go-ahead.
Leonsis yesterday: “I might get fined, I might get punished in some way, but I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex.” https://t.co/4p4u61jlXl
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) February 2, 2017
The head of the International Olympic Committee has requested for Bettman, NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr (no relation to the former Capital), as well as the President of the International Ice Hockey Federation to discuss the possibility of NHL participation next year, per Larry Lage of the Orlando Sentinel. The potential repercussions for NHL players that do leave if the NHL does not participate are still very unclear at this point. However, the NHL is currently creating two schedules for the 2017-18 season; one is being planned as though it were a normal year, and the other in the event that the NHL does participate.
If the league does not allow its players to go to South Korea, it will be interesting to see how teams adapt and react to their top stars (such as Ovechkin and Backstrom) leaving in the middle of a season. The majority of NHL players have been in favor of participating, but as Bettman and the league have shown before (see lockout), they are not ones to give up easily.
By Michael Fleetwood