Since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) first allowed National Hockey League (NHL) players to participate in the Winter games in 1998, Olympic hockey has been seen as the pinnacle of the sport, with talent-laden teams, great goals, and exciting games. However, the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang will be a completely different experience, with no NHL players going after the NHL and IOC failed to reach a deal the NHL found satisfactory.
Among the nations hit hardest will be the United States and Canada, perennial favorites in the tournament. The Canadians won back-to-back golds in 2010 and 2014 and undoubtedly have the strongest selection of players in the world. However, these players play almost exclusively in the NHL, putting Canada at a major disadvantage. Instead of players like two-time NHL MVP and three-time Stanley Cup winner Sidney Crosby, the Canadian team will be made up of players competing in different leagues across Europe. (above taken for front page, use only text below daniel) The Russian League (KHL) in particular will be well-represented, sending 14 players for Canada. Leading the team is Linden Vey, who is one of the top point scorers in the KHL this season for Kazakhstan-based Barys Astana. While the Canadian team undoubtedly still has some talent, many are worried the team will be unable to medal.
The Americans, faced with a similar conundrum to the Canadians, took a slightly different approach, looking for younger players. The American team will feature four college (NCAA) players (to none for Canada), as well as numerous players from the American Hockey League (AHL), the NHL’s minor league affiliate. Similarly to the Canadian team, the American squad is projected to be decent, but a far cry from years past.
While not technically competing as “Russia,” the team comprised of Russian Athletes are the clear favorites. The team has not announced their roster yet, but it is sure to feature former NHL stars like Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, as well as young up-and-comers like Nikita Gusev. Since most Russian talent, outside of a very select group of players in the NHL, plays in the KHL, the Russian team has a clear advantage.
For smaller European countries such as Finland, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland, who usually have a few top-caliber players but are ultimately unable to keep up with elite nations like Canada and Russia, the 2018 games are an amazing opportunity. These nations will have their domestic leagues well-represented, and also have a golden chance to compete on level footing with the superpowers of the sport. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see one of them up on the podium at the end of the tournament.