PyeongChang 2018

NHL Players Aren't Participating in the 2018 Olympics. Here's Why.

The men's hockey tournament at the 2018 Winter Olympics got underway on Wednesday. With former NHLers like Brian Gionta and Pavel Datsyuk headlining alongside potential future stars like Rasmus Dahlin, Jordan Greenway, and Kirill Kaprizov, you might find yourself wondering who the hell these players are.

Familiar stars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are missing from the PyeongChang Games because the NHL is not participating in the Olympics for the first time since NHLers debuted at the Nagano Games in 1998. Most teams -- especially Canada and the United States -- feature players who aren't used to playing together on the international stage.

The teams are built of former NHLers, European league pros, and a handful of NCAA skaters. It's not your typical roster. In fact, the US team had only logged six hours and 15 minutes of ice time together before the start of the tournament, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Why the NHL isn't at the Olympics

It was a long game of chicken between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the NHL. The dispute was largely over who would cover the cost of NHL participation. At previous Games, the IOC paid for travel, insurance, accommodations, and other costs, but opted to not to do so this time. The New York Times reports the insurance alone cost the IOC $7 million at the 2014 Sochi Games.

When the IOC made the announcement, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) offering to cover up to $20 million in costs. The NHL didn't bite because there were other concerns as well. The Olympics forced a protracted break in the NHL season, the cancelation of the All-Star Game, and team owners had concerns about injuries to top players before the start of the playoff push. At the Sochi Games, New York Islanders star John Tavares was injured and missed the rest of the season. 

"Quite frankly we don't see what the benefit is from the game standpoint or the League standpoint with respect to Olympic participation," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said at the time of the announcement.

In a statement, the IOC noted it doesn't cover these kinds of costs for other commercial leagues, like the NBA. Though, the NHL faces the obstacle of a nearly three-week disruption of the season, which isn't an issue for the NBA during the Summer Games.

Did NHL players want to participate in the Olympics?

Unequivocally, yes. Players have repeatedly expressed disappointment. The player's union (NHLPA) put out a strong statement about it, and some players tested the waters with what might happen if they just left their team to play for their country.

It wasn't going to happen. The NHL reportedly threatened serious consequences, including contract termination, for any player who went to the Olympics.

“I’d love to be there,” Crosby told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s a great experience for everyone involved. Everybody gets up for it. It’s too bad that we’re not going.”

Could the NHL participate in future Olympics?

It's possible. There's a feeling that the NHL may see value in having NHL players at the Beijing Games in 2022. The league has made a push for growth in China. The Kings and Bruins even played a preseason game in China in the fall of 2017.

The good news is that, though hockey's biggest stars are missing, there are plenty of reasons to watch. Young players who will be the future of the game like Finnish forward Eeli Tolvanen and Swedish defenseman Dahlin -- he's expected to be the no. 1 overall draft pick this summer -- will bring plenty of excitement. Additionally, the tournament is wide open. The US was upset by Slovenia in its first game. Russia (or OAR, if you prefer that for some reason), regarded by many as the favorite for gold, was upset by Slovakia in its tournament opener. Any team could win gold.

Pretty much anything could happen. Also, it should give you one more reason to watch the women's hockey tournament, which could produce another must-see gold medal match between the US and Canada.

Check back during the games for all of Thrillist’s continuing Olympics coverage. Think of us like an all-knowing friend watching along with you to answer all the important questions, like how heavy are Olympic medals. We'll explain everything from curling rules and figure skating scoring to what OAR means, why winning athletes are receiving stuffed animals and much, much more.

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record but has never met the fingernail lady. Follow him @dlukenelson.