How feasible is it that minor league players go to the 2018 Winter Olympics?? With the NHL declaring they won’t be going, this opens up plenty of opportunity for players to get into the Olympiad– but who knows which way the governing bodies would go with picking their roster. Many think they’ll go for the World Juniors approach, but I doubt they would want to face the best of the KHL, as well as the Finnish and Swedish leagues.
[Full disclosure– I couldn’t care less that the NHL isn’t going. I understand people get upset not seeing the top players in the Olympics, but for business– which is what sports are now– it doesn’t make sense with how the IOC and IIHF are not giving the NHL anything to make them want to go to the Olympics. To shut down a league for two weeks in the middle of the season and to have a risk of losing a top player (right John Tavares) on top of the having to truncate the schedule seems like a recipe for disaster. But more importantly…money. Not enough going the NHL’s way which– rightly or wrongly– is the bottom line. And let’s be honest, how many of these guys take a pass when they get a call to represent their nation in the World Championship??]
In any case, the minor leagues could be the next reasonable step for governing bodies to look at where they want to pluck the players. Sure, Hockey Canada could go the Spengler Cup route and get the best Canadians playing in Euro Leagues– but I doubt they want to do that. Nor do they want to put their World Junior teams out there and get eaten up by the best in the KHL, Finnish, and Swedish leagues. We’ve even seen minor leaguers in the last Olympics with Henrik Odegaard (Missouri) and Kristers Gudjevskis (Syracuse) appearing for Norway and Latvia respectively.
The US Olympic teams in 1992 and 1994 had plenty of minor league involvement with eight players in the AHL and IHL going to play in ’92, while that number doubled to 16 in the ’94 Games. The Canadian team, however, had an established national team of their own made up of overaged players out of Major Juniors, as well as players who were holding out on their NHL clubs. They played exhibition games and other random worl tournaments to tune up for the Olympics.
However, another hurdle that would need to be jumped would be the NHL teams releasing their players to the national teams, which could be worse if the players are guys who are shuttled back and forth to the NHL or AHL frequently. That said, it could be a giant opportunity for some of these guys who may never have thought about representing their country based on their peer group. Not just those from the US and Canada, but Finnish and Swedish AHLers may get a sniff should there not be enough talent over in Europe…hey, they can dream, right??
I believe that the minor leaguers win in all of this, regardless of what happens. If there are NHL players who are allowed to go somehow, someway (looking at you, Washington Capitals); a slew of guys on the Hershey Bears will get called up to play in the NHL. If the NHLers do stay, then it’s a chance for some AHLer to go ahead and maybe get the call to play for their nation; they get a boost in any instance
While I’m not about the NHL-pro guys going to overshadow the other amateur athletes who’s only goal is to participate in the Games, the idea of young talent in the AHL or ECHL going over is something that intrigues me. If not only for the underdog story of these guys going over and facing off against the other best in the world– but it’s their hardwork being promoted on the big stage and have their stories shared to across the world. Thus, when it is all over, maybe even having people pay more attention to those players in the minors when they get back to playing there.