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Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa/USA Today Sports

WWYDW: What if McDavid wants to go to the Olympics?

If the NHL decides to skip the 2018 Olympics, individual team owners could face difficult decisions if star players on their respective clubs request permission to participate independent of the league. In this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday we consider the situation from Edmonton’s perspective.

Specifically, how should the Oilers handle matters if Connor McDavid wants to represent Team Canada?

With Olympic participation looking less likely by the day, it’s not an implausible scenario.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Reuters on Tuesday that there are no ongoing negotiations regarding the league’s Olympic participation. He added that “people should assume we are not going” to the 2018 games in South Korea. That comment prompted a pointed response from International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel:

As always, such comments may be motivated by the desire to drive a better deal. However, if there’s one thing hockey fans should have learned about Bettman by now, it’s that such commentary isn’t empty rhetoric. The man who has presided over three lockouts is perfectly willing to take drastic action if he deems it in the interests of the NHL’s ownership.

In this case, owners aren’t perfectly united. Consider the differing situations in Ottawa and Washington.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has publicly stated his willingness to allow players to leave his team to participate in the Olympics. Via NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti:

I don’t know the internal politics on it, and, because I’ve made my feelings known, I’ll vote when I’m asked to vote. My belief, though, is that I can’t imagine the players saying they don’t want to go to the Olympics. It’s a players’ league. If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, ‘We want to go play for our country,’ how am I going to say no? I might get fined, I might get punished in some way, but I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex.

On the other hand, Sens owner Eugene Melnyk told Sportsnet he would not allow Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson to participate:

So I’m going to give Sweden my best player at the risk of him being injured. Beating our Canadian team. That doesn’t make sense. Maybe if it was a Canadian going to play for Canada… maybe. But right now it doesn’t make any sense for our franchise, or it’s not fair to our fans, if we were to lose him god forbid in a year like this, to an injury in the Olympics.

I can’t imagine what possessed Melnyk to publicly send the message to Karlsson that things might be different if he were a Canadian rather than a Swede, but that was a fun twist to his message. Perhaps it’s something Karlsson should keep in mind when his contract expires in the summer of 2019.

The Oilers have a number of players who would be Olympic candidates for their respective countries. The most important of these, obviously, is Connor McDavid. Assuming that the NHL and IIHF are unable to come to an agreement, and that McDavid wanted to go anyway, what would your answer as Oilers owner be? Would you take the Leonsis tack, bowing to the wishes of your star player? Or like Melnyk would the fear of injury and the interests of your NHL team trump those considerations?

Let us know in the comments section.

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  • cvstone

    Let’s just say as an owner I would never do anything that could jeopardize the long-term relationship between Connor and the organization. I’m sure Connor understands the position of the owners on the matter, but you are playing with fire if you don’t extend him long term before commenting on his potential Olympic Participation

  • Regoils

    This may be more of a question than a comment, but isn’t the decision ultimately going to be determined by the players? What happens if 100 players say they don’t care what the NHL says? What exactly are the consequences of going if the NHL does not want to participate? Its not like these players will end up “losing their jobs”. I can’t see the NHL fining 31 team owners.

    • Rambelaya

      This is only partially true. Yes, a player has free will (sort of), but the reason the NHL as an org is involved, is because if they allowed players to go, they would see to it that the playing field is leveled for the teams so that none are affected by the absences (ie, not scheduling any games during the Olympics). This would in essence protect the owners’ investments. If they didn’t do this, and the NHL schedule, etc, carried on as normal, then it would fall to each individual team as to how to deal with basically “truant” players. Excused vs unexcused absences. I.E., some teams fine their own players for missing practice, etc, and this could possibly extend to Olympic absences. This would be dealt with team-by-team, but the owners would obviously have incentive to fine, suspend their best players if those players choose to miss games for any reason (Olympics or otherwise). But obviously not all teams would do that, like the Caps apparently.

      And no, the players are probbaly not going to “lose their jobs”, but things like suspensions and docked pay are tools for the owners. Not to mention the mood in the dressing room if someone like McDavid takes off to Europe, and watches the Oilers fall out of playoff contention while he’s away for two weeks at the Olympics. Thinking about your NHL team getting hammered while you’re off in Europe would probably make a lot of players think about it more than they already have.

  • Xtnct

    I don’t think you can pick and choose. If you let McDavid go it would be tough to not let Drai or any other player go. As an owner I would want them to go and I would fight with the NHL to let them go. If that failed I would be inclined to let my players go anyway but ultimately it would depend on the details.

    • AJ88

      Do you think the NHL and the owners are two separate entities? Bettman represents the owners… this is all about business, period. I would suggest if players go against their owners wishes, and for example McD gets hurt season ticket holders and owners should be compensated appropriately.

  • BlueHairedApe

    How would this go over in the dressing room when some players are allowed to go and others aren’t. Pretty sure McDavid would be the first to say if I go the others that are invited go too. No matter the country they play for.
    Also don’t agree the teams should have to pay insurance. If I decide to go on a holiday out of country I don’t expect my employer to pay for medical insurance. The insurance is peanuts to these players anyways.

  • Ol_OneNut

    Shutting down the season for two weeks so millionaires can go to Korea to play at 4am MST? Pass.
    Give it back to the amateurs or move it to the summer olympics.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    If McDavid goes but guys like Crosby, Tavares, Doughty, Keith, Vlasic and Carter don’t go, it’s not gonna be as cool. I want to see the best team in the world assembled. McDavid + Canada’s spare parts wouldn’t even be worth it. Might as well just watch the Spengler cup.

  • Danoilerfanincalgary

    It would be a personal choice and the key word here is choice. My employers take pretty good care of me and so does McDavids and it’s a free country but just remember who is footing the bill or in some cases losing money. I would like to see an actual poll from fans because their opinion should carry some weight with the players and owners. Personally I rather watch my team and NHL hockey than watch Sweden pound Khazistan or whoever at 4:00 in the morning. They then come home and still get their mandated 5 day break and scheduled days off all with a condensed schedule sounds pretty stupid to me. If they want to go let it be on their own dime and not get payed for NHL games missed there simple.

  • toprightcorner

    This is much more complicated than just letting Connor go. You can’t say yes to Connor and no to everyone else. The others that would play for their country would be Larsson, Klefbom, Sekera, Draisaitl and potentially Maroon. How do you lose your top 3 dmen and your entire 1st line? Then take into consideration that half of the teams will be a hard no for their players participating, this means more spots open to players who wouldn’t normally be asked. That means Eberle, Talbot, Lucic and possibly Nuge could be asked. Then the Oilers would have to call up a bunch of players from the AHL, exposing most of them to waivers, maybe losing or 2 of them and then icing a team that Las Vegas would would destroy them.

    You basically have 2 options:

    1) Say no to everyone, because there is no possible way this could be done logistically.
    2) Say yes to Connor and no to everyone else, which would be a team chemistry and culture disaster

    The only real option is to say no, saying yes would affect the team much more than simply missing Connor for 8 games.

  • toprightcorner

    I get Ted Leonsis saying he would find it hard to say no to Ovechkin, Backstrom or Holtby, but would he say yes to Carlson, Oshie, Kusnetsov, Johansson, Niskanen and Orlov? These are all players likely to be selected by their countries to play. How can you say yes to some and no to others?

    I don’t think it is logistically possible for any owner to openly allow players on their team to go. Ovechkin is going to go regardless, he would have to agree to be suspended, without pay, for the games he misses so he is the only one leaving the team so Leonsis could say no to everyone, not lose half his team and still give Ovechkin the option to go.

  • Pouzar99

    I realize Bettman and the owners want a cut of the goodies, and they have a point, as men’s hockey is arguably the most important event. Unfortunately the owners, the IOC and IIHF have one thing in common. They are mostly concerned with money and control and could not care less about the fans or the players. Hopefully, the IOC and IIHF will compromise enough so that we can get this done. The 5 Olympic hockey tournaments so far are far better than the cheesy World Cup of Hockey, which the NHL owners prefer because they get all the money and marketing rights. Starting the season a little earlier and finishing a little later once every four years for the best possible hockey tournament in the world makes sense. If the IOC and IIHF won’t bend a little I will give Bettman and the owners a pass, but if they do step up than he damn will better let the players go. What is really crazy is the IOC (Internation Order of Corruption?) have awarded three consecutive winter Olympics to countries with time zones totally out of sync with their main markets. Russia, Korea and China? The money from the US networks essentially pays for the games and this is what they get in return? As for the Canadian and US players we know they want to go, but won’t unless the NHL gives the okay.

    • Furgantilese_Gus

      Unfortunately there are no places within these time zones to host winter Olympics except Canada and the US. They’re not going to give our countries winter Olympics every other 4 years. Over 200 countries in the IOC, I’d assume at least 25-30 with the desire/ability to host winter games. Unfortunately we have to share the sandbox (or snow pile)

  • Whiskey_and_rum

    NHL is greatly protifitng from the players from foreign counties, only north-americans have the privilidge to watch them live. NHL pays zero money to clubs who brought them up. Not letting players to play for their own counties – even if its just one week in 4 years is very selfish. ( Also imagine owner of Florida telling Jagr he cant go, because he is not Canadian – just unfair).
    We all admire players who reached tripple gold club. Now its not so cool to let some to enter, others not.
    If I understand the logics of the matter, problem is 20 million dollars for players insurance. Why cant players or countries pay at least half of it? Players are leaving their employers, counties are profiting on it.

  • Orm Nullman

    We often hear from many players how everything they have is due to the game. When they do charitable deeds they often say they do it as it gives them the opportunity to give something back to the game to which they owe so much of their good fortune.

    It seems to me that the NHL owners do pretty well off the game themselves. The Olympics gives them an opportunity to give something back to the game which enriches them much more than than the players.

  • madjam

    Chances NHL players will not allowed to go to Olympics will be slim. Bettman posturing for now , but eventually they will go for much the same reasons they went years ago . Does the NHL want to lose out on the commercial lucrative sponsorship money and spinoffs involved in the Games – doubt it ? Unless it is political , I do not see NHL not attending ?

  • Bee-Rye

    From what I can see and understand about McDavid’s character and the type of guy he is, I don’t see any situation where he leaves his team in the middle of the season to go to the Olympics. I see him as wanting the NHL to shut down for the Olympics so that nothing in the season is affected. Actually I don’t see many NHL’ers doing this if the NHL refuses to send players eg: players leaving in the middle of the season (“with permission”). Can you imagine the message that would be sending your team? Not happening.