The NHL announced Monday that it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, saying it sees no tangible benefit in halting the season for three weeks – despite clear signs from the world’s best players that they want to go.
The league ended weeks of speculation and said the matter was “officially closed.” Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly told NHL Players Association officials of the move earlier Monday.
The league said no meaningful dialogue had materialized in talks with the NHLPA, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation. Even after the IIHF had agreed to pay for players’ travel and insurance costs when the IOC refused, the NHL had been looking for more concessions, believed to include marketing opportunities tied to the Games.
When there was little progress to report on that front, the league wanted to close the matter before the playoffs, which begin April 13. Messages seeking comment from the NHLPA and IIHF were not immediately returned.
Team owners have complained that stopping the NHL season for three weeks every four years wasn’t worth it and they have been wary of injuries to star players.
NHL players had participated in the previous five Olympics dating to 1998. Many players expressed a strong desire to go, and Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to go regardless of NHL participation.
The NHL has not decided whether to allow teams to make decisions on a case-by-case basis about players participating in the 2018 Olympics. That will come at a later date.
The league says it’s moving ahead with its 2017-18 schedule without a break for the Olympics. The NHL has not ruled out participating in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, though the IIHF and IOC had indicated that could be conditional on the NHL going to South Korea.
Months ago, the league offered the NHLPA a deal allowing Olympic participation in exchange for a three-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Players turned that down.
The league has cited the 13-hour difference from Pyeongchang to the Eastern time zone as one of its reasons for not agreeing to go.