By Deron Snyder
Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin was determined to represent Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics, despite the NHL’s decision to prohibit players from participating. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis had indicated he would support his superstar’s desire, even at the risk of being punished by the league.
But Ovechkin has resigned himself to staying put in February as the PyeongChang Games proceed without NHL players, ending a streak of five consecutive Olympiads. After complaining in a statement Thursday that “it sucks we will not be there to play,” Ovechkin had soothing words for the man who writes his checks and the fans who support his team.
“My focus as it always is this time of year is on my other dream as a kid, to try to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I am excited training camp has started in Washington and the time for talking is done. … I will try my hardest to help my teammates win like I do every year since I came to the NHL.”
He’s right; the situation does suck. For the players who love lacing up for country. For the youngsters who look up to the stars. For the hockey fans who want their sport’s best on the Olympic stage.
It also sucks for the NHL and the International Olympic Committee, but they brought it on themselves. Finding two organizations less worthy of sympathy would be difficult.
The IOC might as well stand for International Organized Crime considering its sordid history of kickbacks and shakedowns.
Insisting that the NHL cease operations in the middle of its season is bad enough. But refusing to grant the league use of Olympic trademarks is exceedingly petty. It would cost the IOC nothing, which is exactly what it offers the NHL for its inconvenience.
In the other corner we have Commissioner Gary Bettman, a proverbial punching bag who deserves every wallop.
No other commissioner of a major North American league was party to an entire season being cancelled. From soft attendance to wobbly franchises and suspect ownership groups, Bettman has every base covered – except devising a solution to market his sport in burgeoning Asia (next year and 2022 in Beijing).
Ovechkin and his peers couldn’t care less about the crooked IOC. They just know the Games will be played without them.
“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics,” the NHL Players Association said in a statement last spring. “Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.”
It’s a shame that NHL stars won’t be on the ice.
But you can blame the IOC as much as the league.
— Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.