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Winter Olympics: Why ice hockey is missing biggest NHL stars

Winter Olympics: Why ice hockey is missing biggest NHL stars
From BBC - February 13, 2018

Imagine the 2018 World Cup without any Premier League players. It's inconceivable, is not it?

Yet the Winter Olympics' men's ice hockey tournament is missing many of its biggest stars because of a row with North America's National Hockey League (NHL) - the sport's most popular competition in the world.

How did this happen, and will it affect the Pyeongchang Games? BBC ice hockey commentator Seth Bennett explains.

What has happened?

The National Hockey League, which is the top men's league in the world, has refused to allow its players to compete in the Winter Olympic Games. That's somewhere between 150-180 players stopped from competing on the world's biggest stage.

The NHL board, which runs the league, is made up of the owners of the 30 individual teams.

The time difference between Korea and North America means many of the ice hockey games are being played in the middle of the night for US audiences and the NHL therefore felt it was not right to put their league on hold for three weeks and allow its players to go to Pyeongchang.

There was even talk of strikes as a number of high-profile stars like Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist and Russia's Alexander Ovechkin expressed a desire to represent their nation and the event.

How did we get to this point?

Since the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010 the NHL and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) have had an uncomfortable relationship.

The NHL questions the business reason for sending its prize assets to the Games, whilst not receiving the level of compensation or the upturn in international interest in the league that it hoped.

In short, it is down to money.

Injuries in Sochi four years ago were cited as one reason, with the NHL also seeking compensation for having to shut the league down.

But the IOC does not pay any professional league or organisation to ensure participation - and so the two parties refused to budge, meaning a deal for the best players in the world to be in Pyeongchang could not be reached.

It will be interesting to see if the NHL is willing to take a similar stance when the Games move on to Beijing in four years.

China is a market which has been coveted by a number of sports because of people reach and commercial opportunities. The NHL has already made its own overtures, holding pre-season games there in 2017 with commissioner Gary Bettman in attendance.

What has been the reaction?

The players' union said it was "extraordinarily disappointed" with the NHL's "short-sighted" decision, adding: "players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly".

The decision has also been met with frustration and disappointment from fans and from the players, with Lundqvist tweeting that they were missing out on the "most special adventure in sports".

Since 1998, when the NHL and the IOC first agreed for its players to feature in Nagano, the Olympics has been seen as the pinnacle of the sport for the players.

For many of the non-North America players it was a chance to showcase their talent in their own country, something which the majority have not done since their formative years on the ice.

Who are the star names missing out?

So how will it affect the action?

Who are the stars left and who are the favourites?

What about the women's event?

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