KHL may nix 2018 Winter Olympics involvement, which could affect U.S. too

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Depending upon how an investigation into Russian Olympic athletes and doping goes, the KHL may very well prohibit its players from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Considering that the KHL brings in high-quality hockey players from Canada, the U.S., Sweden, and other countries beyond Russia, such a move could make a big impact on how those rosters look.

A wide variety of outlets are reporting on such a possibility. Such outlets include Russian news agency TASS, the Associated Press, and Chris Johnston of Sportsnet.

Here’s some added background, via Johnston:

In a statement, KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said the IOC “is destroying the existing world order in sports” by pursuing doping cases against Russians in other sports who are suspected of using banned substances.

At this point, the International Ice Hockey Federation is reluctant to wade into the fray publicly. IIHF president Rene Fasel politely declined an interview request on Saturday.

That doesn’t seem promising. TSN’s Darren Dreger shared the viewpoint that these are bad early signs, although he does bring up a valid point: it might be too early to panic. (But it’s probably fair to worry.)

Seeing no KHL involvement would definitely impact Canada, Sweden, and the U.S. – among others – along with the obvious in Russia. Still, seeing the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk not suiting up for a Russian team that could, conceivably, be asked to play under a “neutral flag” would likely make it that much tougher to forecast a frontrunner for the tournament.

Here’s the statement from KHL brass:

Earlier this week, Dreger discussed some players to watch for the United States, a bit that might be even more relevant now. Could prospects playing in the NCAA earn star turns during the 2018 Winter Olympics? Without KHL players, their chances would only increase, and perhaps the tournament would feel like, say, the world juniors on steroids.

(Uh, the odds are against the IIHF stealing that elevator pitch, considering the circumstances.)

The AHL’s also discussed possibly allowing its players to participate, at least under certain circumstances.

It’s all a big mess, frankly, and a bit hard to get your head around. Maybe cooler heads will prevail for a cooler tournament for the coolest game on Earth? We’ll have to wait and see.

For more on the possible doping ban, head to Olympic Talk and check out posts like these.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.