Washington’s Alex Ovechkin had the expected reaction.
“I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” Ovechkin said. “It’s my country. You know, I think everyone wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know. Somebody going to tell me, ‘Don’t go,’ I don’t care. I just go.”
Ovechkin has what’s being called a “handshake agreement” with Washington owner Ted Leonsis, who has said that he supporters his player’s decision to suit up for Russia at the Olympics.
“If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, ‘We want to go play for our country,’ how am I going to say no?” Leonsis said. “I might get fined. I might get punished in some way. But I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex.”
Washington’s Evgeni Kuznetsov also intends to play for Russia.
“It’s crap. I don’t understand the decision,” said Ottawa defenceman Erik Karlsson. “We have no say in the matter and it’s very unfortunate for the game of hockey around the world.”
Montreal netminder Carey Price also had some thoughts.
“I feel like we’re short-changing some of the younger players that haven’t had that opportunity,” Price said. “It’s tough to swallow for some of those kids, I’m sure. At a human level, this is a big worldwide event that the world takes part in and you know, we want to shine our light too.”
And the NHLPA issued a statement, noting that the players were “extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision.”
“While we respect the NHL’s reasons for not taking part, there is no hiding the fact that this is a decision that robs ice hockey fans of the world’s greatest best-on-best international ice hockey competition, and our sport of a truly global platform that has been in place since 1998. At the end of the day, ice hockey loses here,” said IIHF president René Fasel.
Of course, the NHL players who want to go don’t necessarily have the legal case to do so. There is no guaranteed of Olympic participation in the current collective bargaining agreement, but one expects that this unpopular decision from the league could impact negotiations going forward.
In fact, NHLers who do attend the Olympics would be in breach of contract. The league belongs to the owners, make no mistake about it, and those owners are going to protect their investments. They won’t break ranks and the business end of things will always come first.
And that, sad as it may be, is the prevailing takeaway right now.