It did not take long for Russia to make it clear it wants to take advantage of the NHL’s recent decision regarding the 2018 Winter Olympics. After the NHL announced it will not shut down its league operations to allow players to head to the Olympics as they have since 1998, Russia is hoping to be able to lure some professional hockey players to the Kontinental Hockey League next season. Could the NHL’s decision leave something to gain for the KHL?
The hope for Russia and the KHL is that free agent hockey players will see an opportunity to play in the Olympics as a worthy incentive towards signing with a KHL team. The importance potentially choosing between a gold medal and the Stanley Cup will be a situation that various players may find themselves in this summer.
Among the NHL players already expressing their desire to represent their home country in the Olympics, in spite of the NHL’s decision, is Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.
“Somebody going to tell me, like, don’t go, I don’t care — I just go,” Ovechkin said.
Of course, he will be under contract with the Capitals, making his situation a bit more cut and dried. But other players set for free agency will have a little more wiggle room.
“In Russia, all the necessary conditions will be created to grow their skill and readiness to play for the national team,” board chairman Arkady Rotenberg said, according to the Associated Press.
The NHL is still on a higher overall playing level than the KHL, and the money is generally better too. So going to the KHL leaves a little something to be desired compared to playing in the NHL. What has become evident over the years though is hockey players seem to genuinely be enthusiastic about representing their nations in the Olympics.
The NHL is making a logical decision in some respects, although the lost opportunity to showcase its top players on an international stage is unfortunate. But the league has seen whether or not much has been gained for the league by sending players to the Olympics, and the results must have been minimal at best to make the decision not to go to the Olympics again. But the league gave their players a cookie, and now they have come to expect a glass of milk.
Some players may just have to get their milk from the KHL instead.