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:
Rene Fasel: ‘If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China. Negotiations will be much different’
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) March 22, 2017
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.