NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was recently asked whether he thought there would be any form of protest on the part of the players during all-star weekend concerning the NHL’s decision to not go to the Olympics and he responded by saying that he felt, “for the most part…they’ve turned the page.”
They haven’t, but those expecting the players to make some sort of statement, either individually or en masse surrounding all-star festivities will be disappointed. According to sources close to the situation, the NHL Players’ Association is not encouraging its players to boycott or disrupt the event in any way and one source said he would be shocked if even one player who was named to the event skipped it over the Olympic decision.
NHL rules stipulate that any player who misses the All-Star Game will be suspended for one regular-season game, either the first preceding or after the event. And players have been suspended for it. In fact, Alex Ovechkin has been suspended twice, in 2012 for skipping it to protest a three-game suspension and in 2016 for what he and the Washington Capitals called a lower-body injury.
There is no indication that Ovechkin, who was voted captain for the Metropolitan Division team, has any intention of withholding his services. In fact, he posted the all-star captaincy on his Instagram account and probably realizes he needs to be concerned with his public image after all the criticism he received over the Team Putin situation. And if there were any player who might be inclined to do that, Ovechkin would be the obvious choice. But, hockey players being hockey players, they will do the right thing and show up and play nice for the weekend corporate schmooze fest.
What you’re more inclined to see is most of the players voicing their disagreement with the decision not to go to Pyeongchang if they’re asked. And that’s pretty much it. Players don’t really want to lose money to make a point, so a boycott is pretty much out of the question. If the players really wanted to be militant, they could show up and pull a Marshawn Lynch from the 2015 Super Bowl media day and respond to every question by saying that they’re only showing up because they don’t want to get fined.
But again, that’s not really their style. But here’s the thing. The players are willing to put on a nice face for all-star weekend, but that should not be misconstrued as them being pushovers when it comes to participating in future Olympics. Both the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation have put the heat on the players, most recently by IIHF president Rene Fasel in his comments at the World Junior Championship. Both have drawn a line in the sand saying it’s up to the players to decide whether or not they want to go badly enough. If they do, they’ll simply make a concession in collective bargaining – say by agreeing to a 19-year-old draft – in exchange for the privilege of playing in the Olympics.
But reading the tea leaves and talking to those inside the NHLPA, that will simply not be the case. First, the players want to go, but not badly enough to give up a concession. Second, the PA and its executive director, Don Fehr, view Olympic participation as a vehicle for growing the game globally and think it’s in the best interests of both parties to participate. It’s not a collective bargaining issue in their mind. There was a handshake agreement to go to Sochi and yes, the union should have received confirmation in writing for future Games, but it didn’t. But it’s not as though the players are feeling betrayed by their leadership for failing to see the NHL’s gambit on this one. And it’s not as though they think the All-Star Game is where they should stick their stake in the ground.
So if anyone who is named to the All-Star Game decides to skip it this year, it will almost certainly be because they want to rest up for the stretch run and the playoffs, not because they have their knickers in a knot about not going to the Olympics.
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