NHLers hoping for a chance to play in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea in February already know that the league has declined to participate.
But there’s plenty of bitterness among the players who would have gone. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin released a statement earlier this week decrying the decision and the Islanders’ Olympic veterans expressed the same disappointment as NHL camp began.
“I don’t think the NHL ever took it that seriously, which I think is really upsetting,” said John Tavares. “It seemed to us as players that it had to be on a certain set of terms that were never very realistic to happen. That made it difficult for us, the IOC, the IIHF to make something work.”
“Me personally, I would love to go. It’s a great experience, great tournament,” Nikolay Kulemin said. “It’s different because you get all the best guys there. It’s not going to be the same without the NHL guys. And most of the guys agree with me that it’s important to play for your country, to represent your country at the greatest level. It’s not our decision.”
Kulemin and Tavares represented Russia and Canada in the 2014 Games in Sochi. Dennis Seidenberg has represented Germany three times and Kristers Gudlevskis played for Latvia in Sochi, where he nearly stole a quarterfinal game for his country against the powerful Canadian squad.
That game is better remembered for Tavares suffering a knee injury that ended his NHL season. That injury was likely foremost in the minds of NHL owners who pushed commissioner Gary Bettman to make bigger financial demands of the IOC to ensure NHL participation, leading to the NHL missing out this Games.
Tavares also noted an important dynamic in missing this Olympic tournament, one that’s sure to be resurrected when the NHL and the players’ association start talking about a new collective bargaining agreement in two years. Either side can opt out of the current CBA in September of 2019.
“It’s just the respect — they see how much we enjoy playing in the Olympics and how much it means to us. It’s definitely disappointing,” Tavares said of the NHL and its owners. “I know there’s some things the league talks about, what their concerns are with it, and those are very fair. But there’s got to be concessions on all sides, that’s what helps the future of the game.”
De Haan still wanted
Calvin de Haan was understandably frustrated after he narrowly avoided salary arbitration this summer and agreed to a one-year, $3.3-million deal. The 26-year-old defenseman wanted a long-term contract but the Islanders went shorter.
“I got a one-year deal that wasn’t really up to me,” he said. “I love being here, it’s a great organization, we get treated well. We’ll see what happens throughout the season. It’s too early to tell about the future, but I’m here for another year and I’m happy about that.”
GM Garth Snow said salary cap concerns were what kept him from offering longer term. De Haan’s price would have gone up considerably with a multiyear deal since he becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“He played a great two-way game for our team last year,” Snow said. “With the situation we’re in with the cap, you can only go to certain levels before you make a decision, whether it’s a longer term deal or a one-year deal. There’s many factors that go into it. None of those has to do with not having confidence in Calvin de Haan. He was arguably one of our top defensemen last year.”
The Isles currently have roughly $2.98 million of cap space this season, according to the Cap Friendly website. But the team has only $39-million committed for 2018-19 and needs to get John Tavares locked up long term, so there is time and room for de Haan to stay.
Tavares happy for Okposo recovery
Tavares got to train with his good friend Kyle Okposo in Colorado earlier this month. Okposo missed the final two weeks of last season, his first with the Sabres, after suffering a concussion. He wound up in the ICU of a Buffalo hospital after suffering a mysterious reaction during treatment for the concussion and there were concerns that he might not be ready to play this season.
But Okposo is in Buffalo’s camp as a full participant.
“It was a scary incident,” Tavares said. “We played together a long time and as close as we became, you become very concerned for him, for his family. It’s great to see him bounce back like he has.
“Knowing he was going to be able to play hockey again and live a good healthy life, that’s great to see. He’s got a great attitude, he’s really positive after what he went through. He really learned a lot, gained some great perspective on things and it’s great to see him starting off camp feeling great.”