To Alex Ovechkinand dozens of NHL players who hail from manycorners of the globe, a chance to representtheir birth nation in the Olympics is unquantifiable.
That the NHL won't grant thempassage for the 2018 Winter Games inPyeongchangwas received as a personalaffront toplayers. Some responded Tuesday: Try to stop us.
Ovechkin, speaking to reporters for the first time since Monday's announcement, said the league's official stance on the matter has not and will not affect his decision to play for Russia next February, as he has since his first Games as a 20-year-old in 2006. He's repeated the samedefiant message over and over for months.
"Yeah, I didn't change my mind and I won't," the Capitalsstarsaid followingTuesdaymorning's skate at Air Canada Centre, via the Washington Post.
"Because it's my country. I think everybody wants to play there. It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don't know, somebody [is] going to tell me 'don't go,' I don't care, I just go."
The NHL's decision brought on strongly worded statements from a number of players and other aggrieved parties in the last 24 hours.
The NHL Players Association, for one, called the move"shortsighted" and condemnedthe league for a perceived disrespect of its players' wishes.
The International Olympic Committee, havingrefused to give in to NHL demands on issues such as covering players' injury insurance, said it "feels very sorry for the athletes."
Some of Ovechkin'steammates, like fellow Russian forward Evgeni Kuznetsov, echoed their captain'ssentiment in saying they would play regardless.
“For some reason, for me, I still think it’s going to happen,” American T.J. Oshie told reporters.
In the case of the Capitals, they would seem to have the backing of owner Ted Leonsis, who said earlier this yearhe would support his players' wishes even though “I might get fined. I might get punished in some way. But I feel I’m in partnership with" his players.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, twice a gold medal winner with Team Canada, accused the NHL of using the Olympics as leverage for future collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Though disappointed in and critical of the league's stance, Toewssaid he would not disobey its wishes and play in the Games anyway.
"I guess you have to respect your employers, your owner's decision. But ...it just seems unfortunate that when the players voice it's something that they think is beneficial not only for them, but for the league and for our game as a whole,it automatically turns into a negotiation," Toews said, via the Chicago Tribune. "It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next CBA negotiation rolls around. It's not about the long-term goals of our game and growing it and the bigger picture."
Connor McDavid, the Oilers wunderkindwho was primed to star in his first Olympics for Team Canada in 2018, called the decision "disappointing"since the Olympics were"something I looked forward to as a kid." But asked if he would play anyway, he said bluntly, "I’m in no position to make a statement like that."
The issue of individual participationis far from settled. TSN.com reported NHL commissioner Gary Bettmanhas instructed team officials to refrain fromcommenting publicly on the matter until the league reaches a consensus ruling.
To that end,NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly admitted last month he would be "surprised if we allowed it to be club-by-club issue at this point."