NHLPA Blasts League Over Decision to Skip 2018 Olympics

The 2022 Games in China are likely still in play for the NHL. For fans of the game and some of its marquee players, though, that doesn't mean shit.

by Kyle Cantlon
Apr 4 2017, 3:35pm

Commissioner Gary Bettman (left) and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL's polarizing decision to skip out on the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea on Monday has been met with disappointment and anger by many players across the league, including some of its biggest stars.

In a statement released by the league's owners, with commissioner Gary Bettman calling the matter "officially closed" on Tuesday, the NHL essentially directed most of the blame toward the IOC and NHLPA for not offering concessions that would make it worthwhile for the league to shut down for 17 days in the middle of its season next February.

In response, the Players Association released a statement of its own on Monday night, leading off with a line that read, "The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL's shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics."

READ MORE: The NHL's Olympics Decision Is a Dirty Hit on Fans and Players

Here's the rest of the statement:

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.

Aside from the collective message from the NHLPA to the league, many coaches and players around the NHL commented individually on their disappointment in the NHL's decision to skip the premier international sporting event in the world during a time when the game is desperate to grow across the pond.

One of those players is Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin, who reiterated again Tuesday that he still intends to participate in the Olympics regardless of the league's decision. It's a stance he's taken before, and this reaction from players is surely going to be one of the storylines to watch as more fallout comes this week and as we inch closer to PyeongChang 2018.

"Yeah, I didn't change my mind," he said to reporters in Toronto ahead of the Capitals' game against the Leafs on Tuesday night. "I'm still going no matter what. Because it's my country, I think everybody wants to play there. It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don't know, somebody is going to tell me they don't go, I don't care, I just go."

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who was Canada's bench boss for its last two consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014, said, ''I'm just going to tell you I'm disappointed.''

Future Hall of Fame goaltenders Carey Price, who backstopped Canada to a gold medal in 2014, and Henrik Lundqvist, who led Sweden to a gold in 2006, each chimed in to voice their disappointment with the league's choice to forgo the 2018 Games.

''It's beyond disappointing. It was one of the best experiences of my life and catapulted my career to the next level and things have been going pretty well since then,'' said Price. "I feel like we're short changing some of the younger players that haven't had that opportunity."

Lundqvist, meanwhile, took to Twitter to voice his displeasure about the decision.

Lundqvist's Swedish teammate, Henrik Zetterberg, commented on the matter in a postgame scrum after Monday's contest against Ottawa.

"I haven't really seen the statement yet, but I'm not real surprised. They probably want something from us, as always," said Zetterberg.

Star Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson came swinging, too.

Team Canada and San Jose Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic simply tweeted out a cryptic photo (see above) of the OIympic rings right after the NHL's announcement, while eight-year NHL veteran Brandon Prust, who is now playing in the DEL in Germany, took a more direct approach and went right at the commissioner with his always-honest opinion.

The 2022 Games in China are likely still in play for the NHL. For fans of the game and some of its marquee players, though, that doesn't mean shit.

[This post was updated at 1:15 PM to reflect comments Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin made to the media on Tuesday.]