The 2018 Winter Olympics won't have any NHL players after league refuse plans for mid-season break

In 2014 every member of the Canada and US squads, as well as the majority of the Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Finland rosters, played their hockey in the NHL

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The Independent Online

The NHL has drawn criticism after announcing it will not schedule a mid-season break to allow its players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

North America's major ice hockey league has participated at each of the last five Winter Games, but says it will not be involved in PyeongChang next year.

The players' association, the NHLPA, called the decision "short-sighted" and based on owners' attempts to gain concessions on the current collective bargaining agreement in exchange for allowing players to take part.

At the 2014 Sochi Games, every member of the Canada and United States squads, as well as the majority of the Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Finland rosters, played their hockey in the NHL at the time.

On Monday, a statement on the NHL's website read: "We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue as to reasons the board of governors might be interested in reevaluating their strongly held views.

"The NHLPA (National Hockey League Players' Association) has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs.

"As a result this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalising our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed."

In a response, the NHLPA said: "The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL's short-sighted decision not to continue our participation in the Olympics.

"Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season's schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage."

The statement said that owners concerns relating to player insurance and transportation had been resolved, and that owners were solely responsible for the decision.

"The NHL may believe it is penalising the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang.

"Instead this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide."

Russia's Alex Ovechkin - winger for the league-leading Washington Capitals - previously told ESPN he intends to play at the Games regardless of the NHL's decision.

Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist, a 2006 Olympic champion, tweeted: "Disappointing news, NHL won't be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted..But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can't be part of the most special adventure in sports.."

USA Hockey said it will still compete in 2018, and target a medal, using a squad of younger players from outside the NHL.


The NHL announced the move on Monday (Getty)

"We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said in a statement.

"The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal."

The United States Olympic Committee, which is bidding to host the 2024 Summer Games in Los Angeles, expressed its disappointment at the decision.

"We're disappointed that the NHL has decided not to participate and feel for the players who were looking forward to the Games," chief external affairs officer Patrick Sandusky said. "That said, we're confident USA Hockey will build the best-possible team to compete and win in PyeongChang."