NHL All-Stars see lack of Olympic participation as ‘missed opportunity’

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TAMPA — A year ago at this time no one was expecting to be talking about a 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa. We were instead getting some early thoughts in our heads about who might be named to their respective country’s Olympic roster ahead of next month’s Games in PyeongChang.

But as the hockey world descended on Tampa this weekend, so too did a number of players who could have been preparing to play in the Olympic tournament. In April, the league announced that it would not be sending players to PyeongChang, marking the first time the Games would not feature NHLers since 1994.

The decision was an upsetting one for many players, some of whom still find it to be a bit of a sore spot nearly a year later.

“It’s a little frustrating, not just personally but for any player that had a chance to go represent their country,” said Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux during All-Star Media on Saturday. “It’s a lot of guys’ dream. It sucks, but what are you gonna do?”

“It’s a missed opportunity,” said Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets. “As cool as it for players to be a part of the Olympic experience, it’s a missed opportunity to expand our game. A lot of casual viewers that maybe aren’t hockey fans, they watch USA-Canada and they cheer, and that’s an opportunity for us to expand the game and make more fans. That’s kind of the bummer about it. You see some of those moments in primetime TV, we don’t get that in hockey as much as we should sometimes.”

While the NHL is passing on 2018, participation in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing is still up in the air. The league clearly wants to make inroads in the Chinese market and sending their best players in four years would be a good step in promoting their brand. The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played two preseason games there in September and the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins could be heading their next season as well.

Before the 2022 Games arrive, there is the chance we the league and players could find themselves involved in Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. Whenever they do sit down to hammer out a new CBA, players believe that Olympic participation could very well be a talking point.

“I think it will be, yeah. That’s a tournament that you get maybe 2-3 chances to go and they take one chance away,” said Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “It’s a little sour but at the same time you can’t do anything about it right now and just have to focus on what you can do here.”

“It’s too bad that has to be part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement,” said Wheeler. “That was kind of the point last time, was seeing it came down to a dollars and sense thing. I think the fans deserve to see the best players in the world play on that stage. I think the fans would agree with that. I don’t know if it’ll be part of the CBA negotiations. I’m sure it’ll probably be brought up.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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