As it stands, NHL players aren’t going to the Olympics. This has been met with a mixture of sorrow, anger and defiance by players. Some have accepted the decision, choosing to focus on the Stanley Cup, while others have decided that they’re going to South Korea regardless. With no plans for a break in the schedule, what choices do the GMs have?
It’s an impossible position. Let your players go and risk being fined by the NHL, up to $10 million per player if the NHL is feeling particularly mean. Even by baseball standards that’s a lot of money. That possibility of financial penalties will definitely turns general managers away from allowing their stars time off.
The pressure on the NHL and front offices is going to be enormous, hopefully to the point where the ruling will be changed. But the regular season will roll on anyway and teams will still need to be competitive. Teams USA and Canada are in the NHL’s pocket, so they won’t be inclined to rock the boat, but teams with players from Russia, Sweden, Finland to name a few, don’t necessarily have such concerns.
So what happens if players do down tools and walk out? Right away, the players will be in breach of their contracts, which leave them open to disciplinary action and potential dismissal. Furthermore by abandoning the team opens the players to legal action. If the Washington Capitals miss the playoffs because Alex Ovechkin went to PyeongChang, then the team can potentially sue him. Although, it’s hard to believe that any GM would take his own superstars to court, but it’s being talked about.
The potential for team discord is also worrying, especially if some players go and others don’t. Everyone wants the opportunity to represent their country and those who can’t go are going to be understandably upset. Managing this will be a head-ache.
It’s always possible that the NHL will convince its players and the NHLPA that staying at home and focusing on the Stanley Cup is the best thing to do. But this is the first time since 1994 that NHL players aren’t taking part in the Olympics, and for some it’ll be their last chance. Jaromir Jagr has another three or so Olympiads. He’s fine.
Realistically, it’s not going to be possible for the NHL to muster harmony in its ranks unless it allows a break in the schedule AND allows all players to go. Otherwise it’s forcing GMs into an unenviable tough spot. There’s only one realistic outcome: the NHL needs to reverse its decision.