Alex Ovechkin says he plans to skate in the 2018 Olympics, whether the NHL participates or not.
The Russian superstar told the Tass news agency on Wednesday that “I and other players will definitely” participate in the hockey tournament at the Pyeongchang South Korea Games.
You can appreciate his sentiment—he’s been to three Olympics and has yet to lead his country to a medal—but Ovechkin might be working against his own interests by opening his mouth.
The NHL is dragging its feet on the participation issue, much the way it did before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and for good reason. Several prominent owners, including Philadelphia’s Ed Snider, have spoken out against involvement and there’s no consensus on the value of shutting down the league at mid-season for nearly three weeks, especially with the tournament taking place in a non-traditional market that would not allow for live, prime time viewing of the games in North America.
The league then is looking for significant financial and other considerations from the International Ice Hockey Federation and Olympic organizers before making any commitment to attend. That would include covering the exorbitant costs of injury insurance, travel, accommodations and rights to video footage, among other elements. The longer the NHL delays its decision, the more likely it is to get what it needs via negotiations.
But by speaking out today, Ovechkin undermines the league’s position of strength. If his public posturing leads the IIHF and the South Korean organizers to believe they'll get the best players either way and emboldens them at the bargaining table, that could ultimately lead to a derailment of plans for full league involvement.
You have to admire Ovechkin’s heart. He’s always there when his country calls and it’s clear how important this opportunity is to him. And as Japer's Rink argued on Twitter, there are nationalist pressures at play for high-profile athletes living in Vladimir Putin's Russia that can be difficult for outsiders to fully understand.
But Ovechkin's been through this before when he made the same declaration in 2013. He understands the process and yet he put himself ahead of it. Again.
He should understand by now that this Olympic decision ultimately comes down to business, not passion. At least he would if he'd used his head.