Hockey Canada is due to announce its plans for team building for the 2018 Winter Olympics Tuesday afternoon, while USA Hockey has targeted Aug. 4 for its unveiling. And it’s clear these unique Olympics will not be your father’s Olympics, or your older brother’s. Or anything you’ve seen in a long, long time.
First things first. A tiny, miniscule sliver of hope of the NHL participating emerged last week with a report that Russian players were telling people there was a backup NHL schedule for this season that included a window for competition in Pyeongchang. There’s been talk that NBC has been pressuring the league to send its players, and that game times haven’t been revealed yet because there is still some maneuvering being done to get the games played at a more reasonable hour in North America, which would be a far less reasonable hour in South Korea.
Well, unless everyone is lying, there is nothing to suggest that anything like that is going to happen. Both sides of hockey’s two solitudes – at the moment they are the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association – insist that the dream of NHLers playing in these Olympics is dead, never to be revived.
“I’m happy to be on the record,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to THN.com. “There is not an alternative schedule. Having NHL Players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games is not an available option. All of the international federations are planning appropriately for constructing teams that will not include NHL players. I anticipate there will be federation announcements in the coming days that should eliminate any and all continuing doubt or skepticism about the issue.”
That’s what Hockey Canada has planned for Tuesday. And unlike in the pre-NHL days of the Olympics, it does not appear that either Canada or USA will have a centralized team that will be picked early in the season and play and practice together for the months leading up to the Olympics. Instead, both federations are looking at more of a World Championship-type model, which means they will put the teams together not long before the Games and take their chances with a team that is thrown together without a ton of preparation.
The players will be comprised largely of players who are toiling in European leagues and those who are on AHL contracts, with the possibility of some junior and college players thrown into the mix. So that means you can look for players such as Jonathan Blum and Jordan Greenway on the USA roster. Blum, a former NHLer, is under contract to the KHL team in Vladivostok this coming season and could end up being the captain of the American team. Greenway, a second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2015, was on the roster for the U.S. team at the World Championship in 2017 and is going into his junior year at Boston College.
So now all that appears to be remaining is what to do with rogue NHL players. So here’s how it’s likely going to play out. Sometime in the near future, the league is going to introduce an edict that no player on either a one- or two-way NHL contract will be allowed to play in the Olympics, citing the standard players’ contract as its justification. It’s important the league does this because then it will take team owners off the hook for preventing players from going to the Olympics. The owner will then be able to say to the player, “Look, I’d love to send you, but the league forbids it.”
Shortly after that edict, the NHLPA will file a grievance claiming that individual player contracts are between the player and the team and if the owner gives his blessing, the player should be free to play in the Olympics. It will likely go to an arbitrator who will make a ruling one way or another.
In any event, this could be an Olympic Games like no other, particularly if the NHL decides Pyeonchang is a one-off and goes to the 2022 Games in China. But that’s a long way, and a lot of collective bargaining away.
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