Ovechkin wants to play in Olympics de­spite league’s man­date.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN WHYNO AND GREG BEACHAM

Alex Ovechkin isn’t budg­ing. Jonathan Toews is pre­par­ing for a pos­si­ble show­down with own­ers. Justin Faulk is just plain an­gry that the NHL pulled the plug on the Olympics.

A day af­ter the NHL said that it will not par­tic­i­pate in the 2018 Win­ter Games in South Korea, dis­ap­pointed play­ers hit the ice Tues­day and tried to un­der­stand how some­thing they have trea­sured for the past 20 years could be taken away so eas­ily.

The NHL in­sisted the mat­ter is closed, but a host of ques­tions re­main, from how na­tional teams will fill their ros­ters to how the league will deal with play­ers who plan to go any­way.

“Some­body go­ing to tell me, like, don’t go, I don’t care — I just go,” the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals su­per­star said.

Faulk, a Carolina Hur­ri­canes de­fense­man who played for the United States in Sochi in 2014, called the NHL de­ci­sion “brutal” and said he didn’t read the full ex­pla­na­tion be­cause “I don’t be­lieve half of their rea­son­ing.”

“I don’t think there’s any rea­son that we shouldn’t be go­ing,” he said. “That’s pretty much the thoughts on it from ev­ery player in the league.”

Some play­ers don’t be­lieve it’s even the fi­nal an­swer.

In re­it­er­at­ing his in­ten­tion to rep­re­sent Rus­sia next Fe­bru­ary, Ovechkin called the league’s de­ci­sion a “bluff.”

Matt Duch­ene of the Colorado Avalanche, who won gold with Canada in Sochi, sug­gested it could sim­ply be “pos­tur­ing.”

Asked if he thought the mat­ter was over, NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Don Fehr said: “I hope it’s not over. You don’t ever give up. You hope you can come back to it. But that’s not a de­ci­sion which rests with us.”

Toews and oth­ers were fed up the Olympics

was even a mat­ter of dis­pute.

“It au­to­mat­i­cally turns into a ne­go­ti­a­tion,” said Toews, two-time goldmedal win­ner and cap­tain of the Chicago Black­hawks.

“Just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next (col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment) ne­go­ti­a­tion rolls around? It’s not about the long-term goals of our game and grow­ing it and the big­ger pic­ture.”

Asked about a lock­out, Toews an­swered that he “wouldn’t be sur­prised ... we’re al­ready hit­ting some road bumps with some­thing like this, that we’re headed in the same di­rec­tion.”

Most play­ers know noth­ing of the days when the NHL wasn’t part of the Games, so the news that they won’t get that chance in Pyeongchang didn’t sit well.

“Grow­ing up, watch­ing Swe­den in the Olympics and the men’s hockey, our whole high school stood still,” Avalanche cap­tain Gabriel Lan­deskog said. “Olympics, that’s what a lot of kids dream about.

Fel­low Swede Filip Fors­berg of the Nashville Preda­tors called it a “ter­ri­ble de­ci­sion” that he hopes changes.

Pitts­burgh star Sid­ney Crosby echoed Mike Bab­cock, his coach for con­sec­u­tive Olympic gold medals with Team Canada, by call­ing it dis­ap­point­ing.

“When you be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions and things like that, I re­ally thought some­thing was go­ing to be able to get worked out and un­for­tu­nately that’s not the case,” Crosby said. “From what I heard it was kind (of) typ­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions, then it kind of came out of nowhere with the an­nounce­ment.”

Crosby said there’s “al­ways that pos­si­bil­ity” that the door re­mains open for a deal to get worked out.

State­ments by the NHLPA and the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee made no ref­er­ences to ne­go­ti­a­tions, how­ever, and the NHL said pre­vi­ous talks had gone nowhere on is­sues be­lieved to in­clude bet­ter mar­ket­ing tied to the Olympics — some­thing the IOC al­lows only for top top-tier spon­sors.

In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Federation gen­eral sec­re­tary Horst Licht­ner told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day they were “con­tin­u­ing to try to find so­lu­tions” but ac­knowl­edged a “game-changer” of­fer was likely needed for NHL team own­ers to change their minds about tak­ing the best play­ers in the world out of the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

Hockey Canada and USA Hockey get mil­lions each year from the NHL, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to imag­ine many North Amer­i­can play­ers un­der con­tract in the league would be al­lowed on those ros­ters.

There’s noth­ing in the NHL la­bor agree­ment guar­an­tee­ing Olympic par­tic­i­pa­tion, though that could change if own­ers or play­ers opt out at their next op­por­tu­nity in Septem­ber 2019.

For now, there is also noth­ing in the CBA bar­ring play­ers from leav­ing their teams — po­ten­tially on un­paid sus­pen­sions — to go so Ovechkin isn’t chang­ing his mind.

“It’s my coun­try,” Ovechkin said. “I think ev­ery­body wants to play there. It’s the big­gest op­por­tu­nity in your life to play in the Olympic Games.”

The NHL hasn’t yet de­cided whether to al­low in­di­vid­ual teams to let play­ers go on a case-by-case ba­sis. Cap­i­tals owner Ted Leon­sis said in Fe­bru­ary he ex­pects to be pun­ished if he al­lows Ovechkin and other play­ers go but would be fine with that. Crosby said he hasn’t yet thought about whether he’d go to the Olympics any­way.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Some­body go­ing to tell me, like don’t go. I don’t care — I just go,” Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals wing Alex Ovechkin said af­ter the NHL de­cided to pull its play­ers from the 2018 Win­ter Olympics.

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