Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section

Does the return of the World Cup of Hockey signal the end of NHL players competing in the Olympics?

By Tyler Sims, Esq posted 09-09-2016 15:36


As the World Cup of Hockey approaches, an unanswered question still faces the National Hockey League (NHL): Will NHL players participate in the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) first announced that professional hockey players would be allowed to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics, but the NHL players did not participate until the 1998 Winter Olympics. Now the return of the World Cup of Hockey has cast doubts on whether the NHL will continue to take an Olympic break so its players can represent their respective countries in the Winter Olympics.

The World Cup of Hockey will begin on September 17, 2016, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This tournament has only been played twice before, in 1996 (United States won) and in 2004 (Canada won). It is noteworthy that the NHL players did compete in the 1998 and 2006 Winter Olympics, but the 2016 installment of the World Cup of Hockey comes on the heels of much speculation that the NHL will not take a break in its schedule so NHL players can play in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In the legal community, any sports or labor attorney would undoubtedly inspect the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) to find language regarding NHL participation in the Olympics. However, the CBA only references the word “Olympic” four times, and none of those references provide clarity on the decision to participate in the Olympics.

There are plenty of concerns from the NHL when it comes to its players competing in the Olympics. The Olympic break occurs in February, right in the middle of the NHL season that spans from October to April. This forces the NHL to shut down its operations for over two weeks, which leads to marketing difficulties and the headaches that come with a condensed schedule. The Olympics also brings the fear of injuries that could affect a NHL team’s season and the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Adding to the challenges, in April 2016 the IOC announced that it would not be covering travel, insurance, or accommodations for NHL players, which is estimated to total $20 million. For more information, click here.

All accounts from the NHLPA are that, in general, the players would like to keep playing for their countries in the Olympics, depending on the circumstances. Some players have even expressed their intention to continue playing in the Olympics regardless of the decision made by the NHL and NHLPA in conjunction with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the IOC. However, since a majority of NHL players are not selected to play in the Olympics, there are some players who do not like the break in the NHL season that comes with the Olympics. For more information, click here.

Even though the return of the World Cup of Hockey does not necessarily mean the end of NHL Olympic participation, it has certainly reignited the question surrounding NHL players in future Olympics. A decision that will undoubtedly affect the landscape of Olympic men’s ice hockey is expected in the near future. For more information, click here.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author.