Back in April, the National Hockey League announced that it wouldn’t release its players for participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Since then, much of the conversation about the Olympics has revolved around players from the Kontinental Hockey League, players on minor league contracts, and Jarome Iginla. (Somebody let him play somewhere, please.)
But recently, the discussion has gotten increasingly more complicated. And those complications could, potentially, draw a few Flames prospects into the conversation.
So here’s what’s happening, in a nutshell: only players outside of the NHL contractual system are allowed to play in the Olympics. If you have an active contract that could potentially pull you into the NHL, even if you’re in the minor leagues right now, you’re not allowed to play. As a result, the majority of the players under consideration for Olympic spots – if you take Hockey Canada’s roster for the Karjala Cup or USA Hockey’s roster for the Deutschland Cup as representative – are from the KHL.
But an ongoing doping investigation is a bit of a complicating factor.
Back in 2016 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commissioned the McLaren Report, a comprehensive examination of state-sponsored doping by Russian athletes during international competitions – including the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The conclusion? It was rampant, and included Russian operatives effectively disappearing positive tests in state-sponsored labs. The International Olympic Committee decided against booting the entire Russian team out of the 2016 Summer Olympics – opting instead for case-by-case suspensions – though the Russian Paralympic team was given the heave-ho from the competition.
In September, the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations criticized the IOC for not really disciplining Russia for the whole thing. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston wrote last week that the proverbial “next shoe” may be dropping soon:
Denis Oswald, head of the IOC’s disciplinary committee, has said that he intends to complete his investigation into the matter by the end of the month.
What this means for February’s hockey tournament is unclear. A ban of all athletes from Russia would obviously preclude the country’s participation. There’s also been a suggestion that they may instead be forced to play under a neutral flag, and the Russians have indicated an unwillingness to even consider that possibility.
In October, almost as if to head off a move by the IOC, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko released a statement suggesting that if the Russian team was excluded from the Olympics then the KHL wouldn’t allow its players to participate. (It’s worth noting that the Chernyshenko was one of the main organizers of the 2014 Sochi games and is a big wheel in the Russian sporting apparatus.)
Independent of all of the doping-related messes and posturing, the two major sources of junior-aged players in North America – the Canadian Hockey League and the NCAA – have been discussing the possibility of having their players participate. Now, if the NHL and KHL bar their players from playing, then you’re looking at a very distinct possibility that CHL or NCAA players could be a big part of the Olympics.
In a recent edition of 31 Thoughts – one before the possibility of the KHL pulling its players emerged – Elliotte Friedman named-dropped one player that’s believed to have been asked about by Hockey Canada:
My belief is Team Canada GM Sean Burke and coach Willie Desjardins asked for two or three forwards. I think one is OHL Sarnia’s Jordan Kyrou. Taken 35th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, he had a strong camp for St. Louis. Martin Brodeur, who works for the Blues, is also part of Team Canada’s management group, so there’s a connection.
If you look at Friedman’s logic, there are two Flames prospects that could be on the Olympic radar:
- Dillon Dube: Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving and AGM Brad Pascall have experience working with Hockey Canada in various capacities. Dube was a big part of last year’s silver medal-winning World Junior team and had a great camp with the Flames. He’s been superb to start this season for Kelowna and his GM there, Steve Hamilton, is part of Hockey Canada’s braintrust (overseeing the U18 program).
- Adam Fox: Flames president of hockey ops Brian Burke and AGM Craig Conroy have experience working with USA Hockey in various capacities. Fox was a big part of last year’s gold medal-winning World Junior team. He’s off to a good start this season with Harvard.
Here’s the potential issue. Dube and Fox are among the best players on their respective teams. Dube is going to be 20 next year and he has a contract with the Flames; he’s in his last year for Kelowna. Fox is one of the top blueliners in all of college hockey and given the potential for free agency-related anxiety around college players, it’s probable that the Flames will make a push to get him signed this spring (once Harvard finishes their season). It’s completely possible that it’s Fox’s last season for Harvard, too.
Oh, and both players are basically locks to be at the World Juniors over the holidays. Based on when camps usually are, that means that Kelowna and Harvard will already be without some of their top guns for three weeks in the middle of the season. It’s likely that they really don’t want to be without those same guys again during the Olympics, which fall during the last couple weeks of the college regular season and in the waning days of the junior season.
If the whole Russia/KHL/doping clusterfuck explodes and Hockey Canada and USA Hockey need bodies, would Dube and Fox be made available? Would they be able to play in both the World Juniors and the Olympics, or would they have to choose? With the general belief that NHL players will be participating in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, if you’re Dube and/or Fox do you turn down potentially your only shot to go to the Olympics at the expense of potentially giving up your only shot at a Memorial Cup or NCAA championship?
Could Flames players factor into the Olympics in February? It’s totally possible and probably something that’s already been a topic of conversation at Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. But there are a ton of moving parts right now and until things settle down, it’s extremely difficult to project what could (or will) happen.
We’ll have more on this saga as it continues to develop.