New York — They’ll be watching, and pulling for their respective countries, and wondering the whole time why most of them aren’t there.
The Winter Olympics have begun, and with it, obviously, the men’s hockey tournament – but this time, with no NHL players.
The NHL, Players Association and International Olympic Committee couldn’t all come together on an agreement on terms, and the league decided to sit out these Olympics in South Korea.
This, after having participated in the last five Olympics and producing so many incredible, indelible memories.
Red Wings players have expressed disappointment.
“The Olympics are supposed to embody the best athletes in the world, it’s a shame we’re not going to be there,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard, who was on Team USA in 2014 in Sochi. “It’s been great hockey since the pro guys have started going. It made hockey the focal point of the Olympics.”
What has made the NHL uneasy, even when sending its star players for the Olympics, is the overall cost of shutting the league for three weeks.
As the Olympics rolled on, NHL arenas went dark with no games played. Also, several high-level stars were injured, obviously hurting their NHL teams when they returned.
Still, Howard would gladly do it again if given the opportunity.
“Every guy that has been able to do it would say the same thing,” Howard said. “It was special to be able to go over there, be part of the Olympics.
“It was an honor.”
There will be a Red Wings presence at these Olympics, regardless.
Former Red Wings assistant coach Tony Granato, now a college head coach at Wisconsin, is head coach for Team USA, with former Red Wings player and Olympian Chris Chelios, one of Granato’s assistants.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s younger brother Staffan is representing Sweden in these Olympics, just as Niklas has done in the past.
While pleased for his brother, Niklas Kronwall doesn’t understand why the NHL decided to stay out of these Olympics.
“All the players still don’t quite get why we’re not there,’ Kronwall said. “The possibility of having two Olympics in Asia on top of each other, in an untapped market. We all wish we were there, but we’re not.”
There has been no decision as to whether the NHL will jump back in for the 2022 Olympics in China, with the entire tournament likely becoming a chip during the next rould of collective bargaining talks.
Still, it would be shocking if the NHL decided to sit out those Olympics, and having a huge opportunity to grow the game, in such a massive and largely untapped market.
Red Wings players say they’ll watch the games when they can – many have friends or former teammates on various rosters — although the time difference will have an effect.
“Maybe if it’s on a rerun or something like that,” said Howard, as to how he’ll watch.
Turning it around
It took a while after returning from a severely twisted ankle, but defenseman Danny DeKeyser has returned to the level of play the Red Wings expect.
DeKeyser is producing offense, as a bonus, but is playing the type of defense and playing the type of big minutes the Red Wings need.
“Danny’s been excellent for a month and a half, really,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s really played well. It was a slow start for him, the injury was tough, it’s harder than people realize, especially with the responsibility we put on Danny.”
The Red Wings didn’t hold a morning skate Friday, leading into the game later that night against the New York Islanders.
…Going back to the Olympics, count on Kronwall to be watching many of the sports not usually on network television.
He’ll watch hockey, but also many of the usually hidden events.
“Downhill skiing, (he’s a) big fan,” Kronwall said. “Curling is also something I’ve grown to become a fan of. Sweden’s had success over the years, so that’s always a fun time.”