For the first time since 1994, a full slate of NHL players are absent from the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics. That has inspired mixed feelings among current players, who are enjoying the tournament but would prefer to be playing in it.
“It’s fun, it’s the Olympics,” said Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, via Bill Beacon of the Canadian Press. “It’s different to be on the other side of the TV, but at the same time it’s exciting and you know how much it means for the guys that are there and what’s at stake.”
New York Rangers forward Rick Nash, a two-time gold medalist, said he ultimately felt it would be better for the game if NHL players were involved.
“I think it’s pretty cool that the guys that went have that opportunity,” Nash said. “They look like they’re having fun. The hockey is fast. It’s pretty good checking hockey. But I think what everyone looks forward to every four years is NHLers to be in the Olympics, especially in the States — how much it grows the game when you have a Canada-U.S. match-up. So I think it’s unfortunate NHLers aren’t there.”
American forward Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets admitted that he didn’t mind not having to travel away from his family to play in the Games.
“You always love representing your country,” Wheeler said. “I had a great experience in Sochi. That being said, it is a sacrifice. I’ve got three young kids and I don’t mind spending the extra time with them either. Had we gone and I was invited, I would have been thrilled about it. But to be here with my family, I’m not all that disappointed about it either.”
The NHL didn’t get the financial return they requested to release NHL players to go to the Olympics, but haven’t ruled out returning to previous policy in 2022. That said, while the tournament may not be of as high quality as it has been in years past, it has allowed for a lot of great moments from some players who wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to play on a stage like this.