Connor McDavid doesn’t want his next crack at best-on-best international competition to wait until the 2020 World Cup of Hockey.
He wants to be in South Korea next January helping lead Canada’s quest for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal.
“One hundred per cent. NHL players should be there,” McDavid said Sunday. “I certainly hope they are there. One hundred per cent they should go. I can’t picture the Olympics without it.”
Normally reserved and deferential to the league’s more tenured spokesmen, McDavid took a clear position and lent his voice to a seemingly concerted vocal campaign by players to participate in a sixth straight Winter Olympics.
The spin cycle is humming at full speed with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saying over the weekend that his update to the league’s board of governors on the Olympics lasted “approximately 10 seconds.” The puck drops in PyeongChang in 375 days, one year from Feb. 9.
For months, Alex Ovechkin has stood by his claim to leave the Washington Capitals midseason to play for Russia if the NHL decides against participating.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews went as far as saying the NHL “would be misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale” if they stay home. Toews’ strong comments after Sunday’s all-star game followed his agent, CAA Sports’ Pat Brisson, voiced his frustration over a lack of Olympic cooperation in December.
“Quite frankly, I think to turn on the Olympics next year and watch hockey teams or the players representing their countries, if it’s not the best in the world, I don’t know,” Toews said. “I don’t think you can really compare it to the World Cup or the world championships. The Olympics are a whole other thing … I think the NHL should be in the Olympics.”
McDavid played for Team North America, the under-24 entry, at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. He said having a shot to play for Team Canada at the Olympics “would be everything.”
“Just to get a chance to chase down a spot on the team and have that opportunity, it would be very special,” McDavid said. “But we’re very fortunate in Canada to have a long list of great Canadian players. It’d be a tough team to make.”
McDavid acknowledged “it isn’t up to him” to make a decision on the Olympics. Yet, with the power and influence that he already wields within the sport at age 20, his voice - and the voice of other superstars like Sidney Crosby - can only help exert pressure on the NHL to attend. That seemingly isn’t lost on McDavid and the NHL’s Players’ Association.
But this isn’t as simple as a negotiation between the NHLPA and the NHL. The IIHF, whose president Rene Fasel is stuck in the middle, is responsible for bartering on behalf of the two parties with the International Olympic Committee.
Fasel has secured the funding, he said, to cover travel costs, accommodations, player contract insurance and hospitality for the tournament - which the IOC has otherwise refused to pay - as they did in 2014 in Sochi.
The lack of funding made the Olympics a non-starter with Bettman and the NHL previously. But Bettman has kept the target moving, saying now the next step is contingent on a breakdown of the source of the funds.
“So whether or not it gets paid, and we haven't been assured that it's being paid, we haven't been told where the money is coming from,” Bettman said Saturday. “And frankly, I have on some level, perhaps it's emotional, a real problem if money that would otherwise go to hockey development is being diverted for this purpose.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli