The National Hockey League announced today it won't be participating in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, a decision that will likely not sit well with several Lightning players.
For the first time since 1994, NHL players will not attend the Olympics. Negotations between the league, the NHL players association and the International Olympic Committee have stalled in recent months.
"I'm disappointed that we weren't able to work out all the issues and be able to participate," said Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who won several gold medals for Team Canada as player and executive.
The NHL's issue is shutting down the league for three weeks at a prime time in the season (when NHL is over and MLB hasn't begun). There's also concern about losing valuable player to injury. The NHL's release revealed the IOC expressed position that NHL's participation in 2022 in Beijing is conditioned on the league's participation in 2018.
That will likely be a tough pill to swallow for veteran Lightning players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. Neither of which have participated in an Olympics (Stamkos was hurt in 2014, Hedman snubbed by Sweden).
Stamkos was adamant a few weeks ago in wanting to go to the Olympics.
"I really want to go," Stamkos said. "Talking to a lot of players, I've yet to hear someone say that they didn't want to get a chance to represent their country in the Olympics. I know it's been a hot topic lately and players said since Day 1 and haven't strayed away. We really want a chance to have a once in a lifetime experience. You never know how many chances you'll get to represent your country on a stage like the Olympics. We'll continue to hope that we can go and get a chance to do that."
Other Lightning players that would be candidates for 2018 Olympics are wing Nikita Kucherov and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia), Tyler Johnson (USA), Jonathan Drouin (Canada), Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic), Stralman (Sweden) among others.
Capitals star Alex Ovechkin (Russia) has said he plans to go to the Olympics no matter what, and apparently has the support of the team's owner. It's unclear what Lightning owner Jeff Vinik would do if put in that position by let's say, Stamkos, Hedman or Kucherov. I've reached out to the Lightning/Vinik regarding that scenario, and have been told the team won't comment on the Olympics. It's hard to imagine that Vinik, who is on Bettman's executive committee, would go against the majority of other owners. We'll see.
Lightning NHLPA player rep Alex Killorn has said he hoped the two sides would come to an agreement on participating. But Killorn said it was really important to the players that they could go.
"People hold that with them forever," he said.