For years now, many team sports in the Olympics have featured professional players. It started with the NBA’s “Dream Team” in the 1990s, but it is also a major factor in the hockey tournament during the Winter Games. That is, it was. The National Hockey League has decided it will not shut down its season for the 2018 Winter Olympics after the league and the International Olympic Committee failed to come to terms.
The National Hockey League will not take part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, saying on Monday that it would finalize its 2017-18 season schedule without a Winter Games break. It declared negotiations “officially closed.”
The NHL statement brings an end to years of tense bargaining between the International Olympic Committee, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the NHL over the league’s continuing participation in the Winter Games.
Unhappy about having to shut down operations for almost three weeks in the middle of their regular season, the NHL had been seeking major concessions from the IOC, including recognition comparable to that of an Olympic Top Sponsor, for taking part in the South Korea games.
The NHL had participated in every Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.
The decision will impact almost every major hockey playing nation with Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States and Canadian teams almost made up of entirely of NHL players.
Countries will now have to go to a Plan B to ice a team, pulling in players from junior and minor leagues.
Several players have stated they’ll be playing regardless of the league’s official stance.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. On one hand, the league’s refusal to work with the IOC to permit the nation’s top players to represent their country could be viewed as unpatriotic—though the U.S. is hardly the only nation impacted in such a way.
On the other, by going with non-NHL players, it takes the Olympics closer to its all-amateur roots.
Without a doubt, a bit of the luster has been lost from one of the Winter Games’ premiere events since the world’s best talent is unlikely to be on display, but the NHL was also in a tricky position. By shutting down for three weeks every four years, it creates problems for league schedules and also for venues.
By contrast, the NBA’s involvement in the Olympics provides no real impact on the league since its season typically runs through the winter and spring, but is classified as a summer sport by the IOC. The other major sport with Olympic ties, Major League Baseball, hasn’t had a tournament at the games since 2008 and that year had no players currently on an MLB roster.
Either way, it’s clear that the 2018 games will be without much of the world’s top hockey talent, and what that means for the future remains up in the air.