Echoing the sentiments of their brethren throughout the National Hockey League on Tuesday, Wild and Carolina Hurricanes players expressed disappointment one day after the league pulled the plug on taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It’s very disappointing. It’s pretty selfish I would say,” Wild winger Nino Niederreiter, who represented Switzerland at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, said. “To me, it doesn’t make sense.”
“It’s brutal,” added Carolina’s Justin Faulk, the South St. Paul native who donned the red, white and blue in Sochi. “I don’t think there’s any reason that we shouldn’t be going. That’s pretty much the thoughts on it from every player in the league.”
The NHL had indicated for months that the appetite from the owners to assume the risk of sending their players across the world wasn’t great. The league didn’t take kindly to the fact the International Olympic Committee indicated recently that NHL participation in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China, could be contingent on whether the league agreed to take part in 2018.
On Monday, the league announced it would proceed with a 2017-18 NHL schedule minus an Olympic break in February.
“I was really surprised. I thought for sure that we’d be going,” said Zach Parise, who captained the U.S. in Sochi and won a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. “I thought it was more of a posturing thing like we’ve seen so many times with this. It’s really disappointing because it’s some of the most fun hockey that I think a lot of us have played.”
Added Finland’s Mikael Granlund, “All I know is when I played in Sochi in 2014, that was maybe the best tournament I’ve ever played in. It was awesome to be there.”
This really hits home for Wild captain Mikko Koivu, who won a silver medal at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and a bronze medal in 2010.
Koivu missed his chance to captain Finland at the 2014 Olympics because of ankle surgery, and at 34, Koivu said the league’s decision means, “I’m not going to be able to go anymore. I think it’s the next two that they said we’re not taking part in, so that’s it for me.”
Koivu said he’s mostly concerned about the bigger picture.
“It’s all about the game,” Koivu said. “I remember watching it when I was a kid when they first had it with NHL players. It was in Nagano the first time [in 1998]. It’s a huge deal for people back home, and the big hockey countries in Europe, and I know here, Canada.
“We take a lot of pride in that. If you think about the game, I think it’s disappointing.”
That’s Niederreiter’s issue.
He finds it hypocritical that the league made this decision only days after announcing that Vancouver and Los Angeles will play exhibition games next season in Shanghai and Beijing, China, and that Colorado and Ottawa will play two regular-season games in Stockholm, Sweden, next season.
“It just doesn’t add up,” Niederreiter said. “It makes no sense. You can’t go to China and have games there and go to Stockholm and have games there, and then have a chance to play in the Olympics and don’t go.
“It’s just selfish. And, it’s not about the [good of the] game, that’s for sure. They say they want to grow the game, but you don’t grow the game by not playing in the Olympics. I don’t see the point at all. At the end of the day, we’re athletes and we want to perform in the biggest stage there is. The Olympics, it’s the oldest competition there is and you want to be a part of it. It’s too bad.”
Parise, who with teammate Ryan Suter has been a staple on U.S. teams, said there’s a lot of “business stuff” the players don’t understand.
“They try to say it disrupts the season and players getting hurt,” he said. “That’s a risk that everyone takes every day.”
Faulk said he didn’t read the NHL’s statement “because I don’t believe half of their reasoning.” He feels the league expected something back from the players in potential collective bargaining negotiations in a few years.
“I’ve never seen that done before where players have to concede or give up something,” Faulk said. “If we would’ve done that, I’m sure they still would’ve tried to pull another to get some more out of it. I don’t think the players felt like they had any real say.”
NHL teams, like Wild owner Craig Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher, are not permitted to comment. The league has not been spelled out yet how teams should handle if, say, USA Hockey comes calling for pros like Luke Kunin, Alex Tuch and Jordan Greenway. Now that amateurs would participate in the Olympics, this could conceivably affect Greenway’s decision to sign with the Wild now.
Conversely, if Joel Eriksson Ek makes the Wild next season, he’d miss out on his chance of playing for Sweden.
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin reiterated Tuesday he’s playing for Russia no matter what. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune, “We will discuss [an] appropriate response at a later time. Suffice to say, we expect that NHL Players will be playing in NHL games.”
Said Parise, “I know there will be a lot of controversy if [players go anyway]. Now we’ll see if it actually happens now that they say we’re not going. That’ll be interesting.”