Wednesday's NHL: Players vent frustration over being barred from Olympics
Brad Marchand is not happy. Neither is Vladimir Tarasenko. And they are not alone.
A handful of NHL players are voicing their frustration over the league's decision barring them from participating in the Beijing Olympics. Even though the agreement between the league and NHL Players' Association was contingent on pandemic conditions not worsening and disrupting the season, many say they are upset they were never given the choice to go.
Marchand, Boston's top left winger who would have been a shoo-in for Canada's Olympic roster, ripped the league and union for bringing back taxi squads to keep the season going but not to push through February with players given the option to go to Beijing.
“For all of you who want to pipe back about forfeiting pay while being gone, (yeah) not a problem,” Marchand said in a lengthy Twitter post. "Let the players make their choice.”
Letting players make individual choices to leave their NHL teams for the Olympics was never on the table. The possibility broached by Marchand and Tarasenko happens more in soccer, which allows players to go on loan to national teams for international competition when a season is not paused.
More: NHL decision to skip Beijing Olympics leaves Dylan Larkin disappointed
Tarasenko would have been one of Russia's top forwards at the Olympics and said he would have left the St. Louis Blues to represent his country if given the choice.
“Of course,” he said. “You would be surprised how many people choose to go.”
Alex Ovechkin said he wanted to go to the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 even if the NHL did not participate. The Washington Capitals captain relented before training camp in 2017, with he and other players begrudgingly accepting the Olympics would go on without them and hoping 2022 would be different.
A second consecutive Olympics without the NHL has some looking back with sharper anger to 2018, when the International Olympic Committee would not pay for travel and insurance costs as it did five times from 1998-2014. Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said players were “robbed” of the chance four years ago.
“Obviously this year with what’s going on in the world, it’s a little more understandable,” Stamkos said. “But the last Olympics where we weren’t able to go because of different issues with the NHL, now it just stings even more knowing that for some of the older guys, this is probably their last chance.”
This was probably the last chance for Stamkos, teammate Victor Hedman and a generation of NHL players. And while the extension of the collective bargaining agreement includes a provision for the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina, this year has shown there should be only pessimism and doubt until the puck is actually dropped at the Games with NHL players there.
More: U.S. hockey team forfeits world junior game after 2 players test positive for COVID-19
With the next Olympics more than four years away, what about another World Cup of Hockey like in 2016? Marchand's teammate, Taylor Hall, is in favor of that.
“Going forward I'd like to see a World Cup format again and try and make that just as important as the Olympics in people’s minds,” Hall said.
The only problem is it's not at all the same in players' minds. As Stamkos pointed out, “The Olympics are the Olympics, and there’s really nothing that can compare to that experience.”
NHL cutting isolation time to 5 days, change applies in US
The NHL is following other leagues and the CDC by cutting COVID-19 isolation times to five days under certain conditions and where it is allowed by local laws.
The change went into effect Wednesday and applies only in the U.S. because of stricter pandemic regulations in Canada. The league has 25 teams based in the U.S. and seven in Canada and on Tuesday postponed nine games scheduled for north of the border because of attendance limits imposed by provincial governments.
More: Red Wings game Wednesday canceled, team continues to look ahead
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the new protocols, which were first reported by Daily Faceoff. They apply for 14 days, at which time league and players' association officials will reconvene to review the situation.
Players, coaches and staff who tested positive for the coronavirus can return after five days if symptoms are gone or resolving themselves with a negative PCR test or two negative rapid test results taken more than two hours apart.
“I think that’s a good step,” Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg said on a video call. "Obviously testing will still be a regular thing, I’m sure, and that’s something that we dealt with all last year, so we’re used to that. But I think that’s the way to do it as long as we can keep everything in the way it’s been, which has been pretty safe to me.”
The 10-day isolation requirement remains in Canada. The NBA and NFL previously reduced to six and five days, respectively, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance.
Hockey players this week had expressed a desire for shorter isolation times. Daily testing and enhanced protocols, including mask-wearing at team facilities unless on the ice for games or practices, are in effect through at least Jan. 7.
The league has postponed 80 games so far this season, counting the nine in Canada because of crowd restrictions in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Another game, scheduled for Jan. 12 between the Canadiens and Bruins, was moved from Montreal to Boston, where fans are permitted.