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The National Hockey League Pulls Its Players from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics

By Tyler A. Sims, Associate
Littler Mendelson, P.C.
One Newark Center
1085 Raymond Blvd., 8th Floor
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Direct: 973.848.4747
Email: tsims@littler.com
*The views expressed herein are those solely of the author.

The National Hockey League (NHL) announced on April 3rd that its players will not play in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. This ended a five-year run of NHL participation in the Olympics. (https://www.nhl.com/news/nhl-will-not-participate-in-2018-winter-olympics/c-288385598)

It is no secret that the overwhelming majority of NHL owners have been strongly opposed to interrupting the NHL season again to allow its players to represent their respective countries in the Olympics. Surprisingly, a majority of fans in the USA and Canada disapprove of interrupting the NHL season to allow NHL players to play in the Olympics (73% and 53%, respectively). The bottom line is that the NHL owners do not see the benefit to hockey or the NHL. (https://www.nhl.com/news/history-shows-olympics-dont-help-nhl/c-288389004)

While the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) harshly criticized the NHL for this decision, the NHLPA rejected the NHL's offer to continue Olympic participation in exchange for an extension of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for three years to 2025, plus the elimination of the opt-out clause in the fall of 2019 (for more on the NHLPA's reason for declining the NHL's offer in December of 2016, see http://www.nhlpa.com/news/nhlpa-rejects-nhls-offer-of-olympics-for-cba-extension, and see its statement here: http://www.nhlpa.com/news/nhlpa-statement-on-nhls-2018-olympic-winter-games-decision.).

NHL players are overwhelmingly disappointed in the NHL's decision. As a result, some forecast future labor strife. One high-profile NHL player, Alex Ovechkin (Russia), stands behind his commitment to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, regardless of the NHL's position. NHL coaches and executives are also voicing their disappointment. (http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2017/4/4/15176386/players-reactions-nhl-skip-2018-winter-olympics-south-korea-nhlpa-gary-bettman-lundqvist-ioc)

Many interesting questions are raised if NHL players leave their teams mid-season to join their respective countries in the Olympics:

-What are the consequences if the players leave their NHL teams to compete for their countries in the Olympics?
Can they be suspended?

-Can NHL teams void their contracts?

-Will the NHL teams take them back?

In another blog post I will look at the options that NHL owners and teams have in addressing these questions under the CBA.

This author believes that the NHLPA did not protect the players' interest in the CBA when addressing Olympic participation. Therefore, the NHL was well within its right to cancel its Olympic participation. However, as a former player and fan of the game, I enjoy watching the best players in the world compete in the Olympics. This issue should be revisited during the next round of CBA negotiations.

I first wrote about this topic in a post entitled "Does the return of the World Cup of Hockey signal the end of NHL players competing in the Olympics?" posted on September 9, 2016. (http://community.njsba.com/entertainmentartsandsportslawsection/blogs/tyler-sims/2016/09/09/does-the-return-of-the-world-cup-of-hockey-signal-the-end-of-nhl-players-competing-in-the-olympics?ssopc=1)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 17, 2017 6:14 PM.

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