The NHL announced a few months ago that the league wouldn’t be shutting down this season to allow its players to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Commissioner Gary Bettman recently confirmed which pro players will be eligible to participate. Current and former NHL players who will be playing in Europe this season will be able to play. In addition, players on one-way American Hockey League contracts can participate. However, those who are playing in the AHL on two-way contracts aren’t eligible to play. Basically, anybody with an NHL contract in 2017/18 isn’t allowed to partake in the Olympic action.
This means the Canadian and U.S. Olympic hockey teams will be weakened drastically for the 2018 tournament compared to every event since 1994, which saw NHL players participate in them. European leagues will be letting their players make the trip to South Korea and this is why several NHL free agents such as Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens decided to sign with KHL teams during the offseason. In addition, the KHL already has an abundance of excellent players to choose from for the games next February, including former NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Canada’s chances of winning a third-straight gold medal look slim, but the nation’s hockey association has already named Willie Desjardins and the team’s head coach with Sean Burke as general manager and Martin Brodeur as an assistant GM, a position he also holds with the St. Louis Blues Meanwhile, the U.S. has announced Tony Granato as its bench boss. Both countries will likely be filling their 25-man rosters with pro players who are based in Europe before adding a few AHL players to the mix. Some possible members of the Canadian team include former NHL’ers Ben Scrivens, Kevin Klein, Derek Roy, Mason Raymond and Max Talbot.
The U.S. may take Keith Aucoin, Nathan Gerbe and goaltenders Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and David Leggio as well as college and junior players. However, any AHL players that are selected to play for their countries are only allowed to leave their domestic clubs for the Olympics and not any of the numerous pre-tournament events including the annual Spengler Cup at the end of December in Switzerland. The U.S. is forgoing most of these pre-Olympic tournaments though and is planning on playing just one, which will be the Deutschland Cup in November.
While Bettman and the NHL owners have put their foot down regarding the 2018 Olympics, it still remains to be seen if certain players decide to go anyway. For example, star Russian winger Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has told the press on many occasions that he plans on playing in South Korea regardless of the NHL’s decision to bypass the event. It’s possible that players such as Ovechkin try to work out a deal with their NHL clubs, but if they do travel to South Korea, it’s unclear if Bettman has the power to throw the book at them via suspensions and/or fines.