In a move that was not that surprising, but still a bit painful, the NHL has announced that they are out of the 2018 Pyongyang Olympics. The players (with the potential exception of Alexander Ovechkin – and Marc-Edouard Vlasic? – which will be an interesting development) will not represent their countries in the winter festivities.
With the league digging the corpse of the World Cup of Hockey up, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. I don’t know how folks are feeling (I’m pretty ambivalent about it), but it’s a loss for hockey regardless of how invested you were in it.
But it’s not just about the fans. The biggest losers are the players. For reasons we can certainly understand but not truly get, the Olympics are a major point of pride for the players. Ovi will literally leave his incredibly well-paying job to go play for his home country, and there’s probably many others who are considering the same. Playing for country is a driving force that goes beyond club and cash.
I’d guess it’s because the window for playing in the Olympics is very narrow. Let’s say a good NHLer’s career lasts 12 years. The Olympics are every four years, so (assuming) the first year of a player’s career is the Olympics, they’ll usually get four chances. The first go around, they’ll be too young (remember when Team Canada picked 35-year-old Kris Draper over Sidney Crosby?). The second, they might just make it, but likely not. The third is usually go time. Fourth, they’ll probably be too old (then again, 35-year-old Kris Draper).
So the Olympics are something special. It’s being skilled enough to make it and lucky enough to be good at the right time. It’s being selected as one of 23 from the millions for your country. And there are many Flames who will likely miss that all-important “make it” window.
Let’s start with captain Mark Giordano. He’s a late bloomer, so he didn’t get a chance at the 2006 or 2010 Olympics. When he finally reached that elite level, he missed out on the 2014 Olympics due to injury. At his age, 2018 was probably his last chance.
Mikael Backlund is also in a similar situation. Having finally reached the top team for Tre Kronor, Backlund will miss out on what could be his only chance. He’ll be a month from 29 when the 2018 Olympics roll around, and 33 when the 2022 ones come by. Backlund’s in his prime right now, so 2018 seems like his go year.
There’s also young guns who are probably going to miss opportunities to shine. Sean Monahan, who hasn’t represented his country since the 2014 World Championship, will miss a big opportunity. Ditto for Johnny Gaudreau. Dougie Hamilton hasn’t represented his country since the 2013 World Championship. Matthew Tkachuk is a budding star for USA hockey, and could’ve even had a darkhorse shot at 2018.
For these young guns, we should also remember that it’s likely that this isn’t an isolated thing. The NHL will likely be out of the 2022 Olympics, the 2026 Olympics, who knows. It’s going to be a silly pissing contest leading up to the next time the CBA needs discussing. Who knows how long the league and the owners hold out, because they’re going to fight against the Olympics at every turn.
Of course, the players could always join Ovechkin in his mini-strike against the NHL. That would be a “fun” thing to happen. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail.