The NHL owners announced on Monday, through commissioner Gary Bettman, that they had failed to come to an agreement with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and would therefore not be sending their professional players to the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang. The NHL Player’s Association already released a statement criticizing the decision, but one of the league’s biggest and brightest stars took it a step farther on Tuesday morning.
Ahead of a game against the Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin was asked about the NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Games. He didn’t give the vague, politically correct answer that hockey players are known for. No, he dug his heels right in and spat on the NHL’s announcement.
“Yeah, I didn’t change my mind. I’m still going,” Ovechkin said, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.
When asked whether he would change his mind if someone like Capitals owner Ted Leonsis asked him to stay, Ovechkin again replied that it wouldn’t matter.
“Somebody going to tell me don’t go, I don’t care, I just go,” Ovechkin replied.
Several other players have expressed their desire to go, although Ovechkin is the highest profile player to make that claim. More than that, he’s outright defying the NHL’s decision. Leonsis has previously offered public support for his star player, saying he would allow him to go to the Olympics if he wanted.
“What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll get fined or something,” Leonsis said back in October. “I hope it doesn’t get to that. But I’ve got to have my captain’s back, and I will.”
If the top stars in the NHL all decide to go play for their country when the 2018 Games roll around, which will the NHL really do to stop them? Suspend them all? Fine them? Seems unlikely. I get the feeling that this “final decision” from the NHL about not participating next winter is anything but final.