Ask NHL players and every one of them will tell you the league should continue sending players to the Winter Olympics, no matter where they are held.
Ask general managers around the league and, well, you’ll hear a different story.
“I’d personally rather not do it when it’s outside North America,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said Thursday. “I wouldn’t want to be the New York Islanders today, who lost their best player. That’s tough.”
The Islanders learned Thursday that center John Tavares, who leads the club with 66 points and was a runner-up to Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for last season’s Hart Trophy, will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury that occurred during Team Canada’s win over Latvia on Wednesday to propel them into Friday’s semifinal showdown with Team USA.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow was understandably upset when discussing Tavares’ injury.
"It wouldn't matter if we were 10 points up on a playoff spot or 10 points out,” Snow told reporters Thursday. [The Isles are 12 points out]. “We lost our best player and he wasn't playing for us.
“Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season ticket holders now?
“It's a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don't want to pay when our best player gets hurt."
McPhee echoed those same sentiments, acknowledging Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who was clearly targeted during the Olympics, could have sustained a similar injury.
“We have people that own these clubs that have a lot invested in these players and, at least monetarily, they don’t get a whole lot or anything out of the Olympics,” McPhee said. “I’m sure it’s not fair to them, either.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has not committed to the NHL participating in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, saying he hopes to come to an agreement with the NHLPA on the issue within the next six months.
McPhee said he understands the mass appeal of the Olympics and how much exposure the NHL receives by having players in them.
“But I don’t know there’s good [reasons] for shutting down for three weeks and subordinating ourselves to the Olympics,” he said. “I think we’re a better league than that and we shouldn’t have to do that.”
The flip side of this argument is whether the NHL has the right to choose which Olympics in which it participates. The league seemed to have no issues with playing in Vancouver four years ago but GMs seem hesitant toward committing to South Korea.
“This is one heck of a league, the best league in the world, and I’ve never been a fan of shutting it down,” McPhee said. “If we want to do it ala carte and do it when it’s in North America and pick and choose, then I could live with that. But when it’s on the other side of the world it’s not easy for our league or our players.”