If you asked every American and Canadian player in the NHL whether winning the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal for their home nation is their ultimate hockey dream, how do you think they’d answer?
I’d wager the strong majority would say it’s the former; those afternoons on the pond or in the youth rink are spent envisioning themselves scoring the series-winning goal and hoisting the Chalice for their favorite teams. And then drinking chocolate milk out of it. Because they're kids, you see.
Now, what if you asked every non-North American player the same question?
I’d wager the strong majority of them would say it’s the latter, because every one I have asked – Ondrej Palat of the Tampa Bay Lightning was the latest – has valued a gold medal slightly more than the Stanley Cup as a career achievement.
Alex Ovechkin hasn’t come close to winning either, but he’s spoken at length before about the pride he takes in being the face of Russian hockey and what winning gold would mean to him – something no doubt amplified by the embarrassment of Sochi.
So he’s going to be there, playing for Russia, at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. As will many of his NHL countrymen. The question is, will it be as part of full NHL involvement in the Games, or defying the NHL to attend the games with the Washington Capitals’ season rolls without him?
"The same situation was with the  Sochi Games, they said NHL could not be allowed to come," Ovechkin said.
"I hope the sides will reach an agreement."
"Anyway, I and other players will definitely come [to the Olympics 2018]," he added.
I’m not sure what’s going to be decided about 2018. I’ve been told by some in the know that the NHL’s not going to South Korea. I’ve been told by others that they’ll go if the IOC basically gives them everything they’re looking for, from opening up revenue streams for the League to having Gary Bettman light the torch. (Kidding ... we think.)
I look at the 2016 World Cup and the plans for a hockey Ryder Cup, and I wonder if we’ve seen the last of them in the Olympics. And then I see that contract with NBC and think there’s no way they won’t.
If the NHL opts not to go, they’re going to have a problem: With Ovechkin and Russians, who are going to play for their nation by any means necessary (and especially against a potentially decimated field); and with other veteran players looking to win gold before they call it a career, including Americans and Canadians.
What a fabulous mess this is shaping up to be. Oh, to have some KGB spy tech and listen in on that coversation between Ovechkin and Ted Leonsis when it happens...
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