So Connor McDavid is “really upset” about NHL players not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. In that case, McDavid might want to take a number and get in line because there are a lot of star players who feel the same way. Sidney Crosby doesn’t like it, either. But the NHL is not in the business of catering to their star players, particularly when they feel it doesn’t serve their business interests very well.
Some star players, particularly those of the Russian variety, have talked about going rogue and playing in the Pyeongchang tournament anyway. So make no mistake, the star players who have the most to lose by not playing in the Olympics are not a happy bunch.
And that’s all well and good, but now is the time for those same players to use their clout to shame the NHL into doing the right thing in 2022 and their own Players’ Association into enshrining it into the next collective bargaining agreement. And players such as McDavid and Crosby and the other great NHL players can do that by doing something superstar players in this league have been reticent to do in the past – get involved in the collective bargaining process and make their feelings known.
From Wayne Gretzky to Mario Lemieux to Crosby, the best players in the NHL have historically been content to sit on the sidelines and watch the foot soldiers of the NHL cross swords with the league on collective bargaining issues. And you can kind of see why. Regardless of the economic conditions – cap or no cap, term limits – those guys are always going to have a place to play and will always be paid handsomely.
But this is one that hits them, and only them, where it hurts. Third- and fourth-line players are never going to be impacted personally by an Olympic decision one way or another. Just like most other players and people in their right minds who don’t own NHL teams, they would like to see the best players in the world on the biggest stage in the world, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker for them. All they get out of it is a two-week break in the middle of the season every four years. (And if they have the greater good of the game in mind, they might be inclined to think Olympic participation helps to grow the game globally. You know, a big part of the reason why the NHL got involved in the Olympics in the first place.)
So this one is on the superstar and star players. If they truly want to go to the Olympics in the future, stipulating participation can’t just be seen as a novel bargaining chip that can be manipulated or tossed away in order to gain concessions in another area. One of the reasons why the members of the NHLPA are not going to these Olympics is that the union leadership did not see fit to enshrine it into the CBA. Basically, the NHLPA trusted the NHL to do the right thing when it came to the Olympics and it got burned by both the league and the International Olympic Committee.
That cannot be allowed to happen ever, ever again. And the only way to ensure that is to make sure the players insist on it when they collectively bargain again with the league, likely in 2020. And those feelings can only be made known if players such as McDavid and Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews are part of the process. If these guys want to play in the Olympics so badly, it won’t be enough for them to simply sit on the sidelines with their big, fat signing bonus cheques and allow the lesser lights to do all the heavy lifting.
The players get a pass this time. They never thought the league would be shortsighted enough to sit out the Olympics, nor did it occur to them that the NHL would try to use it as a bargaining tool to force them to extend the current deal and be forced to continue to live with their much-loathed escrow payments. (Although in a league where revenues are split 50-50, it’s difficult to come up with any other way.)
There will be no surprises the next time around. And if the best players in the NHL want to make sure they’re playing for their countries in the Olympics, in each of them, not just the ones the NHL picks and chooses, then it’s up to them to be at the table.
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