When the NHL formally announced and then reiterated twice that it would not be participating in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, hockey fans were devastated. International best-on-best competition is truly one of the greatest things in hockey. However because of a squabble over money and broadcast rights between the NHL owners and the IOC, hockey fans will pay the ultimate price and be forced to watch mediocre C level hockey at the tournament.
Just last week the NHL announced that any player with an NHL contract, even those playing in the AHL, will be ineligible to play in the games. This has led many to speculate that if a player, like Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin, is truly adamant on playing in South Korea, he’ll need to first “retire” from the NHL and terminate his deal before being granted permission. This would be similar to the situation that allowed former New Jersey Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk to leave the NHL and join the KHL.
Now, however a report has surfaced that alleges players can keep their NHL deals in place and play in the games by simply being “loaned” to European clubs for the course of the games. In theory this means the Washington Capitals could keep Ovechkin under contract, loan him out to his former KHL club Moscow Dynamo for the duration of the games, then take him back once the games have finished.
Pretty devious, right? It’ll be interesting to see if any players, particularly any big name players, exercise this option as we draw closer to the opening of the Olympics in February. Even more interesting will be how the NHL reacts to its players abandoning it just to play for their country.