Following Wednesday’s announcement that NHL players will not go to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, there have been many opinions about whether it was the correct call. That decision cost at least a handful of Calgary Flames the chance to represent their countries.
As you might expect, it doesn’t sit well with many members of the NHLPA. This will be the second straight Winter Games in which NHLers have not been able to play for their country on the globe’s biggest stage.
National Hockey Now’s Jimmy Murphy spoke with insiders who offer insight into the disappointment. The decision was a difficult one for all involved, and was especially divisive within the NHLPA’s ranks.
“There’s definitely some major division within the PA ranks right now,” an NHL player agent told Murphy. “Some feel that with how hard the union fought to play in these Olympics that others capitulated like they always seem to do with the league.
“I think we all get the gravity of COVID and health concerns but are the players going if we had lightened protocol?”
Olympic decision was an easy one to make amid COVID outbreak
The decision to forego the Winter Games in February was understood by many players, coaches, management, and league executives given the recent COVID outbreak in the NHL.
The growing number of postponed games forced an early holiday break that began Wednesday, with a return to action next Monday. The Calgary Flames were among the most affected with only three members of their active roster escaping the COVID outbreak that led to six postponed games.
Despite the reality of the situation, sources tell National Hockey Now that there was plenty of pushback and harsh criticism of this decision from within the NHLPA.
“The players I’ve talked to are ticked off,” the agent told Murphy. “This is getting ridiculous as far as they think. It’s a time to figure out how to move forward and not backward.”
That criticism wasn’t all private, either. Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck told reporters he thought the league’s actions are overkill. And Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman said his players want to play and questioned the testing of asymptomatic players this week as well.
Jets goalie calls reaction to rising COVID numbers overkill
“I can’t speak for everyone, but the feeling for myself … it’s a little overkill, “Hellebuyck told reporters in Winnipeg Tuesday. “You see leagues like the NFL who are adapting and, I think, doing things right.”
Hellebucyk didn’t hold back his frustrations that he may never get to represent his country on the grandest stage.
“It was going to be an awesome opportunity to play,” he said. “But I guess that’s just what we have to deal with.”
A prominent former member of the NHLPA says many who had a chance to go are ticked off.
“I’ve talked to some of these guys and some are basically like what the bleep? We did what we were supposed to do,” the source told NHN. “I get that, trust me. Then you got those who see the risks – like maybe being held hostage in China for what? Five weeks maybe? Those guys are like screw this! The problem is though, this means the world to some guys and others they’ve got their glory.”
The Calgary Flames had a number of Olympic hopefuls. Sweden’s Jacob Markstrom, Elias Lindholm, Mikael Backlund and Rasmus Andersson, and Americans Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk were all in the mix. Andrew Mangiapane was on Team Canada’s long list. Dan Vladar (Czech Republic) and Adam Ruzicka (Slovakia) had shots, too.
On Wednesday, Boston Bruins team President Cam Neely expressed his frustration for the players as well, but more so for the way this season has taken a turn for the worse.
“Just talking with a number of guys … They were disappointed. … They certainly understand the circumstances,” Neely said of the players. “But at some point, we have to get back to normal here. Completing those postponed games and an 82-game schedule is a big part of that.”