After months of hand-wringing and back and forths and non-answers and off-hand comments, the NHL finally sealed the deal and has said they will not be sending any players to Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympiad in PyeongChang.
In it’s place, at least for the forseeable future, the only game that the NHL will be playing in East Asia of any kind will be two games between the LA Kings and the Vancouver Canucks, which will be played during the preseason next year. Between two non-contending teams, one with a hell of a lot of rebuilding to do. In two separate cities.
Regardless of the outcome, one can imagine players and prospects selected for the World Championships and the WJC will likely be considered for replacing a good portion of Team USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia etc. etc.’s top lines and goaltenders. Some of which might be a huge loss for certain nations that are still growing into their talented players/coaches, so one can imagine certain national federations will begin lobbying for certain players to show up.
I personally think this is an enormous mistake given the building strength of Korea’s national teams and the sport’s rising interest within the country, but at this point the NHL’s paranoid oligarchical structure of people interested in extra playoff dollars and the #brand means it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing NHL talent go to play for their respective countries for awhile. Two preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai might work to ease that pressure but only if they were selling these two teams to having some kind of stakes to it. Otherwise, a number of prospects that may not even make the team will be the NHL’s “best”. It’s also awful for the sport as it deprives teams name talent for people to tune in and watch (or even show up to), and olympic hockey could then be shunted to the back of the lineup in place of ski and snowboard events. To assume that things would’ve gotten better by 2022 to get China’s dollar when they made such a milquetoast first impression is foolish and short-sighted.
On the bright side, if the tournament is competitive regardless, that means maybe the pro teams in Korea will see an uptick in sales if the national squads are in any way competitive. Maybe.