August 12, 2022

Still want the NHL players in the Olympics?

Henrik Zetterberg — done for the season with back surgery.

John Tavares — done for the season with knee surgery.

Alex Ovechkin — humiliated by his own national team’s coach while his father was, unknowing to Ovechkin, recovering from open heart surgery.

U.S. Men’s Team — embarrassed themselves with pathetic effort in the bronze medal game.

Now this: Nicklas Backstrom — druggie?

It’s not that extreme, but it is serious. Mild-mannered Nicklas Backstrom was suspended from Team Sweden two hours before Sunday’s gold medal final against Team Canada, which Sweden then lost 3-0. He tested for elevated levels of pseudoephedrine, a controlled substance by the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Federation. There’s a distinction here between “banned”, which you might see in a lot of lazy headlines about the incident, and “controlled”.

Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in many cold and allergy medicines. Backstrom takes Zyrtec-D for his allergies, and has for many years. In fact, he was taking the product during the 2010 Vancouver games. According to the IOC, pseudoephedrine is prohibited when its concentration in an athletes’ urine is greater than 150 micrograms per milliliter. According to reports, Backstrom’s level was 190.

This could have been caused by many things. Doping is one of them. Pseudoephedrine is a stimulant and can increase alertness or awareness. Abuse of the drug is similar to using AHDH medications, a common practice among athletes. However, the level of pseudoephedrine in Backstrom’s system doesn’t really indicate that to be the case.

More realistically, Backstrom took two pills instead of one and was then tested quickly thereafter.

A somber Backstrom faced the media in Sochi.

“I have nothing to hide. I’m going to speak from the heart. The last two weeks have been some of the best in my life. I was getting ready to play the biggest game of my career and two-and-a-half hours before I was pulled aside. That’s sad.”

Caps coach Adam Oates addressed Backstrom’s suspension from the Olympics after practice Sunday, which will not affect his status once the NHL resumes next week.

“It’s a blunder. It’s an innocent blunder. It’s still a blunder,” Oates said. “When we have mistakes in our league,  that summer the [general managers] all meet and they try and fix it for the next  time. To me this seems like one that the IOC will have to try to address for the next time because it’s not fair to the  athletes. It’s not. To me it’s not fair to him.”

As if league owners needed one more excuse to prohibit NHLers from playing in further Olympics.

There were several league owners who spoke on the record before the games about not wanting their players in the Olympics — Flyers owner Ed Snider was particularly loquacious about it. For the owners, this is all about the money. They gain very little other than goodwill by allowing the league to shut down for two weeks every four years to allow their players (property) to go gallivanting off around the globe risking their health to represent their country in international play.

For the players, they obviously still see it as an honor. In most countries, Olympic gold is the highest honor in sport, hockey included. But adding insult (Backstrom, the U.S. embarrassment) to injury (Zetterberg, Tavares), is it worth allowing the best the NHL has to offer to risk season-ending and career-threatening injury for a cause not relevant to the league?

The NHL receives no compensation for allowing their players to go on holiday. They certainly receive no compensation or remuneration to make up for the injured players that return. Season ticket holders receive no rebate for their team’s weakened condition. There’s no way to go back and reverse the ill will bred by the pathetic effort the U.S. men’s team exhibited in the bronze medal game. There’s no way to placate Backstrom’s disappointment being ripped from his team’s dressing room mere hours before the game, when the IOC had been sitting on the test results for several days.

There’s no way Ovechkin can go back and be at his father’s side as he receives heart surgery, unaware of the situation until Team Russia was eliminated from the competition.

If the NHL wants to adopt a league-sanctioned international competition outside the regular season, where the players will have access to team and league doctors, and play under league rules, and are covered by league insurance, that’s one thing. And I’m sure if Gary Bettman thinks he can make money off of it and get the owners off his backs, he’s already exploring the idea.

The play would be better too. Under league control, the teams would have time to practice together to become cohesive teams, not just a bunch of supremely talented players thrown together and two days later put on the ice in the worldwide spotlight. No one can say the play on the ice this Olympics — as with any the NHL players have been involved with — wasn’t ragged for most of the time.

At this point, the league would be better off prohibiting their players from playing in the Olympics. It’s just not worth it for anyone involved.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP


  1. Dave – Couldn’t it be something as simple as the NHL doesn’t care about the South Korean (or southeast Asian) market in general? They could easily skip playing in 2018 with little to no detriment to the game. They don’t have much to gain from playing over there.

    It’s not like Russia where they could stick it to the KHL to some degree and not like the games in North America where they can “defend their turf.” Injuries happen every day

    • Dave Nichols says:

      Yup, and I meant to mention that in my ramble. There are no S.Korean players to lobby for their home country, no incentive for the NHL to “grow the market” over there.

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