We know that NHL players aren’t happy that they’ll be playing regular season games this month and not participating in the PyeongChang Olympics, which begin next week. (Those who wouldn’t have been going, of course, would have liked the extra vacation time.)
Since the NHL announced in April that it wouldn’t be sending players for the first time since 1994, players have been outspoken in their disagreement with the decision. “As cool as it for players to be a part of the Olympic experience, it’s a missed opportunity to expand our game,” said Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler during last weekend’s NHL All-Star festivities.
San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who won gold with Canada in 2014, has been the most vocal.
• When a report came out in Nov. 2016 that the NHL had offered the NHLPA Olympic participation in exchange for extending the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, Vlasic responded, “That’s not the way you negotiate things. But, if that is true, all of a sudden they don’t mind having a two-week break in the NHL for a three-year collective bargaining agreement.”
• “It happens once every four years, but now we put in the World Cup, so a condensed schedule happens every two years,” he said via the Mercury News right after the NHL’s decision. “But for the World Cup it’s OK. Guys get injured in the World Cup, but that’s OK. Shorter summers, longer seasons, but that’s OK.”
• “What I’d like is for the NHL to openly give the real reasons for its refusal to go to Pyeongchang,” he wrote last June.
So, yeah, Vlasic is really pissed about not being able to represent Canada again. In a chat with Ross McKeon of SFGate.com, the 30-year-old defenseman detailed the lengths at which he went to get another opportunity.
“I would love to in 2022,” he said. “I’m fighting not only for myself in ’22, but for every other player who gets a chance to do it in 2026, ’30, ’34 and down the road. I’m not just thinking of myself, I’m thinking about all the players who deserve to go.”
That determination is what moved Vlasic to hold a conference call with lawyers and the NHL Players’ Association. Termination of his extension (which was signed July 1) was a possibility. The Sharks could be targeted for a suit, and ultimately Vlasic could be, too, if it could be proved that the product San Jose was putting on the ice during his absence wasn’t as good as if he had been playing.
According to Vlasic, he was told that a court order could be issued if a player still insisted on going. And, ultimately, a player could be arrested for violating the order if he played.
“I don’t think it would have gone that far, but it’s a possibility,” said Vlasic, who noted his initial thought when the league made its decision was to go no matter what.
Vlasic added that players should have Olympic participation guaranteed by putting it in the next CBA, which several players told me they expect to be a topic when negotations begins. He sees the benefits that putting the game on that stage can have, and while he won’t completely ignore the 2018 tournament in PyeongChang, don’t expect him to carve out time in his busy schedule for a game.
“Am I going to watch the hockey? I’ll probably see the highlights,” he told McKeon. “I won’t sit down and watch it.”
MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey schedule
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.