Analysis No NHL, no problem for Pyeongchang — but what about Beijing?

League's participation in 2022 Games depends on myriad of factors, personalities

No NHL, no problem for Pyeongchang — but what about Beijing?
From left, Olympic Athletes from Russia teammates Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk embrace after winning men's hockey gold, while Rob Klinkhammer, right, celebrates with fans after Canada won bronze. © Getty Images

Nothing can replace best-on-best in any sport.

But as exciting as Canada's win was in 2010 with Sidney Crosby's golden goal against the United States, this country's successful gold-medal defence four years ago was a rather dull affair because of Canada's dominance.

In many ways, the men's tournament in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was a refreshing change and full to brim with good stories without the NHL's participation.

The favoured Olympic Athletes from Russia came through in the end with a 4-3 overtime win over the Cinderella-like Germans.

Join the club

Russian Ilya Kovalchuk won MVP honours. His teammate Pavel Datsyuk became the 28th member of the Triple Crown Club with his Olympic gold to go with a world championship in 2012 and two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

The kid who scored the overtime winner was 20-year-old Kirill Kaprizov. He was a fifth-round (135th overall) selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2015 and it will be interesting to see if he finds his way to success in the NHL.

It was Russia's first gold medal since 1992, just weeks after the breakup of the Soviet Union, when Russia was still known as the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Germans, meanwhile, came oh-so-close to pulling off another Miracle on Ice, 38 years after the U.S. stunned the Soviets in Lake Placid.

Let's face it, they were in a superposition to author another upset after stunning Sweden in the quarter-finals and Canada in the semifinals.

Back on the hockey map

They had the lead and a power play in the last two minutes of the game, yet surrendered the tying goal, a shorthanded goal with 55.5 seconds remaining. Still, a silver medal has put Germany back on the world's hockey map with only its second Olympic medal and first since a bronze in 1976.

The Canadians turned out to be a good story, too. A day after their disappointing 4-3 loss to Germany, they exhibited plenty of mettle to bounce back and win bronze 6-4 over the Czech Republic.

But as refreshing as this tournament was, will it be as uplifting in another four years at next Winter Games in Beijing, China?

There are no easy answers whether or not the NHL will be back at the Olympics in Beijing. There is no doubt the league wants to expand its brand in a country with the population of 1.3 billion.

The NHL set up a couple of exhibition games between the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks last September and will return again during training camp in the fall.

Will the NHL be welcomed back?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman drags his feet on these sorts of decisions early so don't expect this issue to be resolved for another three years.

There also is the uncertainty of whether or not the NHL will be welcomed back in four years. IOC president Thomas Back made overtures a year ago that if the NHL doesn't go to Pyeongchang it will not be welcome in Beijing.

The hockey world also has to wait and see if either the NHL or NHLPA decides to opt out of the current 10-year collective bargaining agreement that expires in 2022. In September 2019, both the NHL and NHLPA have an option to opt out of the current CBA, ending the agreement in 2020.

This whole dispute between the NHL and IOC revolves around Bach's refusal to pay travel and insurance costs in exchange for the NHL's participation. Bettman and the owners feel that if the IOC wants the NHL's best to perform in the marquee event then the IOC better pony up.

Bettman and the league felt so strongly the costs should come out of the IOC's rich coffers that when the IIHF stepped in and offered to pay the tab, the NHL refused.

What would be nice is that if Bach stands by his no pay-for-play mantra he sets a deadline for the NHL's decision to go to Beijing two years out. That would not only give countries more time to prepare but also some more NHLers time to decide if they want to take a year off and become an Olympian.

Now wouldn't that be an interesting development?