Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters on Wednesday that “there’s absolutely nothing new” in the ongoing “will they, won’t they” saga between the league and the Olympics to be held next year in South Korea. As you might expect, players are still pretty intent on going.
“We have it once every four years. I read something that [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly said ‘we’re not going.’ Nobody wants you to go.
“The players want to go. Why you’re saying you’re not going? You’re not part of the players association. … Nobody wants you there. They want the players.”
Voracek also pointed out that the league would have a tough time keeping its stars from leaving to play for their countries:
“The players want to go, I guarantee you that. I want to see how you are going to hold [Alex] Ovechkin back. The Russian players. Tell them they can’t go.”
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is on record saying he would fully support Ovechkin and his Russian teammates if they chose to leave the team for two weeks for South Korea. Whether other owners would follow suit is unknown, but unlikely.
The NHL says it wants the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee to pick up all travel expenses if they expect the league’s participation. But what’s really at stake is the league’s unwillingness to put its season (and revenue) on pause for two weeks while its players play in a small market halfway around the world.
That partially explains why the league is still open to letting players play in Beijing when it hosts in 2022. The NHL considers China to be a bigger potential market.
The case isn’t closed on 2018, however. Especially if the players make this an issue for Bettman and his owners.