NHL owners express ‘strong negative sentiment’ about players competing in Olympics

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you're hoping to see NHL players competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, you may want to start bracing yourself for some bad news.

An update from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at the league's Board of Governors meetings this week seems to indicate that team owners are against the idea of their players participating in the Olympics for a sixth straight time. Though no official decision has been made yet, the league needs to make a determination soon for the purposes of scheduling. Bettman has previously said that they will make a decision in January at the latest.

According to Bettman, a major factor will be whether the International Olympic Committee agrees to pay the cost of travel, insurance and accommodations for players and guests. While that has been covered in the past, the IOC has yet to guarantee they will do so in 2018. Bettman said “there's nothing to even talk about” if the expenses aren't covered, as the league has no intention of paying out of pocket to send players to the Games.

It is worth noting, however, that the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has reportedly said that they would be willing to cover those costs, but Bettman and the owners still aren't sold.

“We have been very clear to Rene Fasel at the IIHF and to Don Fehr at the [NHL] Players' Association that if the expenses aren't being covered, the League isn't paying for them and there really is nothing to talk about,” Bettman said, via NHL.com. “Just because somebody may decide to pay for them, and to this point we don't actually know where that stands, that doesn't mean that it's a go.”

Though money seems to be the primary factor surrounding NHL involvement, it's not the only aspect causing hesitation from the league.

Bettman says that owners have expressed concern over “wear and tear” and players risking injury in the international tournament, as well as the compressed NHL schedule that is required when the league sends players to compete.

“I know there's some strong negative sentiment by the clubs,” said Bettman on Thursday. “I don't know whether or not there's even the money to cover what's been covered in the last Olympics. The IIHF would probably say yes. … If that means taking it away from hockey development, I'm not so sure that that's a good idea.”

Owners also have to consider the World Cup of Hockey, the league-sanctioned international tournament that was revived this year and is expected to again be held in 2020 and 2024.

At the end of the day, the league is going to come to a decision based on what is best for business. While most hockey fans would probably prefer to see NHL players continue to represent their countries at the Olympics, it sounds like the suits calling the shots for the league are leaning more toward passing in 2018.