The absence of NHL players from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will detract from the star power at the Games, but U.S. Olympic Committee executives said Monday that will create an opportunity for them to promote the lesser-known athletes who will comprise the team and to feature the U.S. women’s team and Paralympic sled hockey action.
The NHL, citing the disruption of its regular-season schedule for an event from which it does not profit, declined to allow players who are under NHL contracts to compete in the Games. American players who are playing under American Hockey League contracts or are playing in Europe can be loaned to their respective national teams to play in Pyeongchang. NCAA hockey players also will be eligible to compete. The NHL has allowed its players to represent their respective homelands for the last five Games, starting at Nagano, Japan in 1998.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not going to have the best players from the NHL,” Scott Blackmun, chief executive officer of the USOC, said during the organization’s Team USA media summit. “Hopefully they won’t be out more than one Olympics.”
In saying that the hockey tournament can still offer compelling storylines, Blackmun invoked the memory of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which was comprised of nonprofessional players and stunned the world at Lake Placid by upsetting the powerful Russians and going on to win the gold medal. “We’re not giving up hope,” Blackmun said, that a similar triumph can be pulled off by the 2018 team.
The U.S. men’s team at Pyeongchang will be coached by former King Tony Granato. Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios will be among his assistants.
The U.S. women’s team, coached by another former King, Robb Stauber, will get more attention in the absence of the best U.S. male players. “We miss the NHL but I think we have one of the world’s best women’s hockey teams,” said Lisa Baird, chief marketing officer of the USOC. She also said sled hockey will be promoted and broadcast. “You’re going to see some great hockey,” she said.