WASHINGTON — Without an agreement among the NHL, International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee, the 2018 Winter Olympiad in South Korea could be the first in 20 years without NHL players.
That doesn’t sit well with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who made clear his intentions to play with or without such an agreement.
“The same situation was with the  Sochi Games, they said NHL could not be allowed to come,” Ovechkin told the Russian News Agency TASS. “I hope the sides will reach an agreement.”
“Anyway, I and other players will definitely come [to the 2018 Olympics].”
Ovechkin made a similar proclamation in the lead up to Sochi, putting pressure on negotiations to allow players to participate. He served as one of Russia’s torchbearers.
“It doesn’t matter what they’re going to say to me,” he said at the time, via to the Washington Post. “Of course it means a lot for everybody, for all the Russians.
“I’ve been in Olympic games and I know exactly how it feel to play there. It’s pretty big, biggest event in the world.”
Four months after Ovechkin vowed to play, and only seven months before the games began, the NHL agreed to allow players to participate. However, as with many negotiations, this decision has many conflicting interests.
Players want to represent their countries for a chance to earn a medal, as Ovechkin never has. The NHLPA has advocated for participation in both the Olympics and a proposed World Cup.
But participation requires an awkward break in the NHL season, which impacts fan interest and greatly increases the chance for injury. These are liabilities NHL owners and the league do not want to cover.
In 2014, Swedish Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg suffered a re-aggravation of the herniated disc in his back. He did not play again until the end of April.
In 2010, only 22 players were injured, which still accounted for 6.2 percent of all Olympic injuries, according to The IOC Manual of Emergency Sports Medicine, which ranks ice hockey among the most likely sports to cause injury.
The 2006 Olympiad was a disaster for the NHL, with 47 ice hockey injuries. Notably, Czech Senators goaltender Dominik Hasek suffered a groin injury in Turin that kept him out for the remainder of the NHL season.
Ice hockey has helped drive general interest in recent winter Olympiads, and would not be the same without NHL players. However, the league is willing to hold out for financial protection, and rights to the video footage for marketing purposes.
Ovechkin is hoping the two sides reach an agreement for 2018, but will not be deterred if they do not.
The Russian star has played well in his three Olympiads, scoring eight goals and three assists with 73 shots on goal, but Russia has fallen well short of expectations. In 2006, the team fell to Finland in the semifinals, but failed to advance past the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2014.
While still in his prime, Ovechkin will be 32 years old when the puck drops in Pyeongchang in 2018. That could conceivably be his final chance to medal at the Olympics, and it is not an opportunity he seems willing to negotiate.
[H/T Pro Hockey Talk]