The idea of shutting down the NHL season for two weeks does not sit well with some owners, and commissioner Gary Bettman wants to talk with the union about the concept before agreeing to send players to the Olympics in 2014. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin doesn't seem pleased about the idea of missing the Games in his home country.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Ovechkin says he's going to play in the 2014 Games -- scheduled for Sochi, Russia. He doesn't care what the league says.
Ovechkin's pledge to defy his own contract and go AWOL if the NHL decides not to take part in future Olympics ups the ante considerably on both sides of the debate.So, if you're the Washington Capitals, do you just let the guy go for two weeks, or do you put your foot down?
"I don't care," Ovechkin defiantly stated. "I'll go play in the Olympic Games for my country. If somebody says to me you can't play, see ya."
Even if it meant the Washington Capitals would suspend him?
"I don't care," he said.
... Ovechkin said it was likely other Russians would have a similar mindset toward playing on their home soil in 2014.
"Who can say you can't play for your country in the Olympic Games? I think it's ..."
"It's not unfair, it's stupid," he said. "Somebody don't like it, see you next year."
Ovechkin might be a star who isn't worth upsetting, but he also ties up a good chunk of salary cap space ($9 million in the 2013-2014 season) for the team.
The league and players' union need to come together on this issue. There is no real reason to continue the arrangement from a business standpoint. Sochi is nine hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, meaning games played in the evening there would have to air in the midday in order to get live coverage on U.S. television. Diehard hockey fans will definitely tune in, but the league isn't likely to see much increase in overall interest from the players participating. The loss of momentum that comes from a two-week shutdown is likely not worth it.
However, there's no real doubt that the players love this. That support means the owners would likely have to give up something to get out of the Olympics. It's likely to be a contentious negotiation, but the owners could be better off -- despite the potential pitfalls from the business perspective -- staying in the Games.
Meanwhile, it'll be interesting in the coming months to see if any other players share Ovechkin's sentiments, and would be willing to at least talk big about taking part in 2014.