Alex Ovechkin thinks the NHL’s bluffing about not going to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“Next year’s schedule is not out there yet,” the Russian superstar told reporters today in Toronto ahead of tonight’s Capitals-Maple Leafs game.
Ovechkin’s Washington teammate, T.J. Oshie — one of the stars of the Sochi Games in 2014 — echoed the sentiment.
“For some reason, for me, I still think it’s going to happen,” Oshie said, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
But the NHL said yesterday that it would finalize next season’s schedule “without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.”
The league had been hoping to gain concessions from the NHLPA or IOC in order to continue Olympic participation. But the players said they wouldn’t negotiate for the right to go, and the IOC was likewise resistant.
Hence, yesterday’s announcement.
Ovechkin has said all along that he intends to go to South Korea regardless of the NHL’s decision, and he didn’t back down from that today.
Evgeny Kuznetsov also said he’s going, per Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star.
The Washington Capitals can clinch their second straight Presidents’ Trophy tonight, but they’ll need to get some help to do it.
There are two ways the Caps can lock down the NHL’s best record (and home-ice advantage through the playoffs):
1. Defeat the Maple Leafs in regulation or overtime, AND the Blue Jackets defeat the Penguins in any fashion.
2. Defeat the Maple Leafs in a shootout, AND the Blue Jackets defeat the Penguins in a shootout.
The Caps have won the Presidents’ Trophy twice in franchise history, in 2009-10 and 2015-16. The first time, they were upset by the Canadiens in the first round. The second, they lost to Pittsburgh in the second round.
Steven Stamkos will not return for the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight in Boston (on NBCSN).
Stamkos (knee) didn’t participate in line rushes this morning, and he stayed on the ice after his teammates left. Head coach Jon Cooper then confirmed that his captain would not play.
This is essentially a must-win game for the Bolts. Four points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot, a loss would cripple their already-slim playoff hopes.
But the long-term health of their star forward takes precedence over a slightly better chance to beat the Bruins.
Forward J.T. Brown and d-man Jason Garrison will also miss tonight’s contest with injuries.
The Philadelphia Flyers have recalled defenseman Sam Morin, the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Morin could make his NHL debut tonight in New Jersey. The 21-year-old has spent two seasons in the AHL. He has three goals, 12 assists, and 120 PIM in 68 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season.
The Flyers have a couple of pending unrestricted free agents on their back end in Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz. They also traded Mark Streit at the deadline.
In other words, there’s a spot for Morin next season, as long as he’s up to the task.
Forward Mike Vecchione will also make his NHL debut tonight, skating on a line with Colin McDonald and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.
Vecchione, the Hobey Baker finalist out of Union College, signed with the Flyers last week.
Related: Flyers send Morin to AHL
A couple of statements from USA Hockey to pass along, in the wake of the NHL’s decision to forego the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
First from Dave Ogrean, the executive director of USA Hockey:
“We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL. The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal.”
And from Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations:
“We respect the NHL’s decision and will examine our player pool options and plan accordingly. In the end, we’ll have 25 great stories on the ice in South Korea and will go to the Olympics with medal expectations.”
The NHL has been sending players to the Olympics since 1998.
In 1994, when the Games were in Norway, Team USA’s roster featured the likes of David Sacco, Peter Laviolette, Ted Drury, Mike Dunham, and Garth Snow. The Americans were knocked out by Finland in the quarterfinals.
Hockey Canada released a similar statement today.