After months of speculation and negotiations, the National Hockey League today announced that they will not actively participate in the 2018 Olympics in Korea, ending a 20-year span of NHL participation in the Games.
After the International Olympic Committee confirmed they would no longer pay for insurance or travel costs for NHL athletes, the cost onus then fell to the NHL and IIHF, the latter offering to cover the fees in exchange for NHL attendance. However, the NHL declined the offer, noting the preference of having those funds saved for global hockey development at the grassroots level. Additionally, the NHL had balked at the lack of perceived benefits in playing, as the season stops and players are exposed to potential serious injury, with no monetary benefit to the league, and the time difference in Korea for 2018 in particular posed a major concern.
However, an interesting consideration is now for 2022, as the NHL has expressed serious interest in playing in China, which they see as a far more lucrative market to grow the game; however, the IIHF and IOC have supposedly told the NHL that failure to participate in 2018 would mean that 2022 is off the table as well. This marks the end of a 20-year partnership between the NHL and Olympics, started at the Nagano Games in 1998 and continued in Salt Lake City, Turin, Vancouver and Sochi.
The onus is now on countries that heavily depend on NHL stars, such as Canada, the United States and Sweden, to turn to their league players in other pro leagues around the world to try to make up the difference. Russia now gains a huge competitive advantage over the field, as they can still draw from KHL players within Russia, allowing for stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Slava Voinov to still be eligible.
This is a tremendous blow to hockey fans worldwide, as now their favourite stars will play competing against the Olympics, rather than in them. It remains to be seen not only what will transpire between the IOC and NHL for 2022 in Beijing, but if players that have vowed to participate in Korea regardless, such as Alexander Ovechkin, will make good on their vows, and if the NHL or IIHF will even allow them to participate.