As It Happens

Former Team Canada goalie doubts NHL has 'closed the door' on 2018 Olympics deal

The NHL has officially backed out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. It will be the first time since 1994 that Canada sends an Olympic hockey team with no NHL players.

Former Canadian Olympian and NHL goaltender Corey Hirsch still believes Gary Bettman and the NHL executive can work out a deal with the International Olympic Committee to have NHL players participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Elsa Hasch/Allsport/Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Story transcript

Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid will not be representing Canada together at the Winter Olympics next year. 

On Monday, the National Hockey League announced that it will not be participating in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And however angry players or fans are, there will be no further debate on the subject. In a statement, the NHL said it "considers the matter officially closed."

Corey Hirsch was on Canada's 1994 Olympic hockey team in Lillehammer, Norway — the last year before the NHL started participating. He was an NHL goalie for several years after that and retired from hockey in 2006.
Corey Hirsch in net for Team Canada against Team USA at the 1994 Winter Olympics Lillehammer, Norway. (Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT/Getty Images)

Hirsch spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why he thinks the move is "a business decision" and that there is still plenty of time for the league and International Olympic Commitee to reach a deal. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Corey, what do you think of the NHL's decision to pull out of the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Corey Hirsch: Well, I have mixed feelings. You know, I was the last year that non-National Hockey League players went in '94. So I know what it did for my career and other guys careers. So we're going to get that — the hockey is going to be good — that's not the issue. As far as the NHL goes, they made a business decision and, quite frankly, I don't disagree with it. The IOC makes millions upon millions of dollars with the NHL players going over and they want to be compensated for it. I don't blame them.

CO: But what did they want? As a business, what would the NHL have to get from the Olympics in order to make it a viable business decision?

CH: I don't know the exact numbers. I know the IOC made an offer and the NHL didn't think it was enough. When the NHL sends players over that is a huge money maker for the IOC, instead of amateurs. But where the trickle down effect comes for me — and my concern isn't so much about the NHL or the IOC, they can play their games, whatever — what hurts me is that it affects the youth programs. Kids that would be watching the Olympics and the National Hockey League players that would say, "Hey mom and dad, you know what? I want to play now." It really affects the trickle down program with the kids. It means less registrations and less dollars for those kids to play.

CO: So in a dollar and cents frame, it looks like they don't get anything from it. But there's more to business than just the money. There is the excitement that it creates. The players love it. The fans love it. There's energy in it. It expands the whole idea of hockey to other countries even.

CH: You know what, I don't think they are going to close the door on it. But it's no different than a person going to work for an employer. You want to be compensated fairly for what the owners are making. It's a tough balance as far as what the NHL wants to do. I don't know the numbers. But I do know that the NHL has a right that if they are going to send their players over and the IOC makes that much more money off of their players, they should be compensated fairly.

CO: Some of the players have said they are going to go anyways — are they able to do that?

CH: I don't see why not but I don't think the NHL teams are going to pay their insurance. I know Ted Leonsis is one that supports Alex Ovechkin going. So if Alex wants to go that's probably going to be up to him. But they're taking a huge liability risk by going, if something were to happen.
Rene Fasel, International Ice Hockey Federation President, right, and Gary Bettman, National Hockey League Commissioner, are seen during a press conference at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Gerry Broome/AP)

CO: You were on the Canadian Olympic team in 1994. What was it like to actually play on one of those teams?

CH: Well I'll tell you what — this is the other side where I'm torn on it. I know what it did for other guys that I played with. Guys that were pretty much done. The NHL teams had let them go. They weren't going to get another opportunity. They played in the Olympics and then went on to play 100 or 100 plus games in the NHL. If that didn't happen for them they would have never played in the NHL.

So I know from a personal standpoint I want see the amateurs because I know what it did for my career and some of my friends' careers. But there's something about watching Austin Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and all of them playing against each other. It would be amazing. I still hold out hope that this is just a business strategy by the NHL or the IOC and they'll get a deal done.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interivew with Corey Hirsch.

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