Thoughts on the NHL Dropping Out of 2018 Winter Olympics

by | Apr 4, 2017 | Soapbox | 14 comments

What will be the fallout from the NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Winter Olympics?

After months of speculation, the National Hockey League announced Monday it would not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Among the reasons cited by the league in its statement was an overwhelming lack of support for the Games among most NHL team owners to and concern over injuries to their players taking part in the tournament.

NHL players weren’t happy with the decision, which also received widespread condemnation from the media. Some pundits hold out hope for a last-minute resolution, but the league seems to have slammed the door on that possibility in its statement, calling the matter “officially closed”.

Money is the real reason why the team owners don’t want to participate in the Pyeongchang Games. For years, they’ve been grumbling that they aren’t seeing a sufficient return for shuttering the schedule in midseason and sending their best players to the Olympics.

Neither the league, the NHL Players Association, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) handled this situation well.

The IOC doesn’t want to give the NHL a bigger share of the revenue generated from the Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey tournament. As of last year, it also announced it wouldn’t pick up the transportation and insurance costs of the players. The IIHF was willing to absorb those costs, potentially at the expense of funding for international hockey development, something the NHL was opposed to.

The players claim they had no say in this, but that’s not true. Despite the seeming reluctance of most team owners in future Olympic participation, league commissioner Gary Bettman last fall proposed extending the expiration date of the current collective bargaining agreement by three years to 2025 in exchange for taking part in the 2018 and 2022 Games. The NHLPA, however, rejected this.

It’s been suggested the PA could use the league’s decision as a reason to trigger an early opt-out of this CBA in September 2019, bringing the agreement to an end a year later and setting off another lengthy lockout. But if the Olympics are the hill they want to die on, it’s a meaningless one. Escrow and other salary issues, not the Olympics, are of greater concern among the players.

Fans and pundits can be upset with the league and its apparent shortsightedness in putting aside short-term revenue ahead of growing the game internationally. Still, this is a business and the owners are within their rights to make that decision.

But while they don’t want risk adversely affecting next season’s revenue and the health of their best players by going to Pyeongchang, they’re apparently interested in taking part in the 2022 Games in Beijing, China.

That’s because China is a huge untapped market for hockey. The NHL is already starting to make inroads in that country and sees the Beijing Games as another significant building block in growing their product there. Of course, that’s if the IOC is willing to allow them back into the Games again.

One also wonders if the team owners would be agreeable to taking part in the 2026 Winter Olympics if the city of Calgary wins the bidding to those Games. The lure of another Winter Olympics in North America and the televising of those Games in prime time could prove enticing, provided they can get some additional revenue out of it.

The NHL’s decision raises questions over how it’ll handle its individual stars wishing to take part in the Pyeongchang Games. Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin has made it clear he intends to play for Russia in that tournament. Indeed, he suggests the league is bluffing. 

Will the NHL leave that up to the owners of each club to decide if they want to allow their best players to go to South Korea? Will it implement a league-wide ban? If it’s the latter, will an NHL superstar such as Ovechkin risk breaching his contract and perhaps fines and a lengthy suspension to play for his country? We’ll have to wait until next season to learn the answers.

It remains to be seen what consequences will emerge from the league’s decision not to go to Pyeongchang or how long they’ll be felt. The most immediate effect is to remind hockey fans that the NHL is a business. And business can sometimes be an ugly, unhappy thing.


  1. I am on the side of the league on this one, however the way in which all sides handled this is a peek into the future… the next CBA may be rough. Just hope that they can un-guarantee the contracts like the NFL. So tired of overpaid under performing players you get stuck with for 5+ years.

  2. It is rare for me to be in agreement with the owners but in this case, based on what I understand so far, I am on their side. Money is the huge factor but lets face it, the Islanders lost their season because Tavares got injured at the Olympics. Why should a team have that sort of impact on them, their team, their revenues, and get absolutely nothing in return. The IOC wants to use the league’s best players, for free, and keep a complete monopoly on the benefits that the strength of the players’ names gives and profit from it while shutting the league in the dark. It’s basically the same as a grocery store demanding that a supplier provide their best products but won’t be paid for it.

    • The thing is the owners shouldn’t have anything to say about it this is about your country way above the nhl

      • These players are under contract. If they want to play in the Olympics no 1 is forcing them to sign NHL contracts.

  3. The olympics have sucked for years. Thank you for ignoring the phony bologna in place of real hockey. I can’t be happier for my favorite sport right now.

  4. No doubt the NHL declining to participate in the 2018 Olympics is largely, if not entirely, about the lack of financial concessions that the IOC, IIHF etc refuse to give the NHL to make it worth their while to participate.

    The owners have the right to protect their employees,their investments if you will, as they see fit considering the
    development and pay out costs involved of these pro hockey contracts.

    Without diverting the focus away from the sports aspect of it for long, I do wonder if there is an unspoken underlying concern for player safety as it pertains to the political climate in Korea as a country.

    North Korean athletes, for example, will need approval from Seoul to enter the South as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.

    North Korea’s leader has raised many an eyebrow in recent months with his nuclear testing and apparent taunting of US President Donald Trump with both calling each other out in a public in an inflammatory manner which could be perceived as threats.

    We will never completely know all the considerations and concerns that were involved in this decision process,but I do
    know that it is one thing to gain entry into any country, but its quite another to be granted permission to leave.

  5. If they skip Korea, I sure hope the IOC doesn’t let them go to China.

    • Agreed, but unlikely. IOC could, could, however, disqualify any team with any player who plays a single game, preseason included, in the NHL 2017-2018 season. It would ramp up the pressure from a guy like Ovie and risk him in particular going to the KHL for a season. Remember, he is tight with Putin so his stay would be cushy…

    • Me to as I don’t want them shutter down the NHL for the Olympics at all.

  6. I’d love to see the world juniors at the Olympics. Choosing between the owners and the IOC is a Hobson’s choice; but the owners have at least the discipline of business and the fans paying admission. The IOC has a sordid past and an ego out of proportion to its contribution to sport. We’ll use your players, and by the way if one is injured that’s tough, but don’t dare show Crosby’s golden goal in a promotion. From years of shamateurism to the recent bribary scandals, I just can’t find any reason to like or support the IOC

    • Ya that would be great if all the countries sent the same age group but that won’t happen.

  7. If hockey is to be grown outside of north America then these types of decisions will never help. Other sports that are truly global sports do not expect compensation when players get injured on international duty, it is just what happens and you move on. A player could as easily injure themselves walking down the stairs or travelling to do an advert and neither of those will grow the product.

    On the impact this has on the season, the owners where happy to compact the season for the joke that was the World Cup of Hockey and actually the break creates a good narrative in the build up to the Olympics and then the crazy rush after.

    If China is a growth market then why pull out of the Olympics before China host it? Instead use it as a growth opportunity, building a story into 2022. 2018 games will be in prime time for China. The NHL could be out in China while the Olympics talking and promoting the game.

    I hope the Olympics does not start playing a part in the CBA. The CBA is always the same story; CBA created, owners find loopholes, owners put themselves in a bad situation due to loopholes and then repeat. Players just simply want to guarantee as much money as possible for playing hockey.

  8. I hope the players or the owners trigger the next lock out in 2019. The sooner this flawed business model is fixed the better for the NHL long term. We are probably at least 3 more lockouts from getting a proper business model in place so both owners & players can profit sufficiently. A team shouldn’t have to make the playoffs to turn a profit as the majority donow.

    This current model is screwed. The top 4 teams in the league make more money than the rest of the league combined. Significantly better revenue sharing is necessary but the players share of revenue needs to drop significantly from the current 50/50 split, the reason for escrow & guaranteed contracts need to be eliminated.

    The NHL has data showing that going to the Olympics has had almost no effect on growing the game including Salt Lake City & Vancouver. The gains there were nominal but off shore the benefit is less than zero & is costing fans in NA. How can the NHL market the Olympics when they aren’t allowed to use any of the video or audio streams created by such in anyway?

    • Be careful what you wish for, Striker. They haven’t yet found any way to fix their business model over the last two lockouts.

      Furthermore, another season-killing lockout could spell the end of this site. I barely held on during the last lockout and only survived the nuclear winter of 2004-05 because I was still in the military back then.

      It would best serve everyone if both sides resolve their differences without another work stoppage.