In early April, everyone's favorite commissioner Gary Bettman announced the National Hockey League (NHL) would not be going to the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Instead of watching Connor McDavid play in his first Olympics, we'll likely get to see recent NHL castoffs playing in Europe representing their country - move over Crosby, here comes Cory Murphy. Aside from Russia, who might ice a team full of NHLers - and top KHLers - if Vladimir Putin has his way, teams will consist of minor leaguers, players currently playing in Europe, and maybe you, the reader, if you get yourself into playing shape by next year.
Some believe there's an outside shot the NHL could change its decision in due time, but it appears unlikely. And, given the league's insistence to promote the World Cup of Hockey, there's a very strong chance that some of its brightest stars will never be able to add an Olympic medal to their resume. Some players have expressed frustration at the decision, while one in particular has stated he's going anyway. Are there others that will follow suit? Who might and who won't for certain play in South Korea in 2018? Will young stars like Patrik Laine and Connor McDavid wait and hope for participation in 2022? Consequently, will aging veterans jump at one last chance to represent their country on the highest stage?
15 Will: Alex Ovechkin
A day after the league announced it would not be participating in the 2018 Olympics, The Great 8 didn't mince words when he was asked if he would still play for Russia. "I didn't change my mind, and I won't. It's my country. I think everybody wants to play there. It's the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don't know, somebody (is) going to tell me, 'Don't go.' I don't care, I just go."
Regardless of who you blame for the league not going to South Korea, you have to respect Ovechkin's commitment to his country, although it isn't surprising considering he has a proven track record of playing in World Championships after his Washington Capitals get eliminated from the NHL playoffs. It'll be interesting to see what kind of repercussion the league hands to Ovechkin, the Capitals, and their owner Ted Leonsis, if he decides to go. The bigger question, however, will be if he finally wins a gold medal will it even count if other countries aren't sending their best players?
14 Won't: Sidney Crosby
As cool as it would be to see Sidney Crosby take a stand against the NHL and go to South Korea, there's absolutely no chance that happens. No. 87 has been a poster boy for the league since he and Ovechkin broke in together following the 2004 lockout. He has made the league millions of dollars in merchandise and advertising, and if anyone is owed the opportunity to go it should be Crosby, but he has more integrity than that.
Crosby might be one of the more vanilla players in the league, so it would be unlike him to take a stand on any matter let alone one as significant as betraying the league's wishes. Beyond that, if he left he would be betraying his Penguins teammates, as the league obviously wouldn't break for the Olympics. That ain't happening.
13 Will: Vladimir Tarasenko
You might think it's a joke, but it's a very real possibility that Putin spends valuable resources on ensuring Russia wins an Olympic gold medal in hockey. It's not as if Russia is known for its incredible displays of sportsmanship and strict adherence to rules; most of its athletes were banned from the 2016 Summer Games and Paralympics in Rio because of a doping scandal.
Behind Ovechkin, Tarasenko is the best Russian goal scorer in the NHL, and he might even be a notch above Ovechkin at this point, given Ovie's unassuming season in 2016-17 and Tarasenko being six years younger. In fact, Tarasenko scored one more goal than Ovechkin did this season while playing for a worse team. He's clearly committed to the St. Louis Blues and hasn't stated anything otherwise, but money talks, man.
12 Won't: Carey Price
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price has already accomplished enough at the international level, including a World Junior Championship and a gold medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where he allowed just three goals in five games for a dominant Canadian team. Price posted a shutout in both the team's semi-final win over the United States and its gold-medal win over Sweden.
He established himself as the best goalie in the world during that tournament, but he has come back to earth this season, despite still being a top-five goaltender. Price's focus in the next few years will be leading the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup, something the team hasn't achieved since 1993. He loves playing in Montreal and would love nothing more than to be remembered as the goaltender that backstopped the Habs to a championship. There's no chance he risks leaving his team next season.
11 Will: Ryan Miller
If there's a dark horse goalie candidate to represent his country it's Ryan Miller. The American will be 37-years-old by the time the Olympics come around next season and it'll certainly be his last chance at representing his country at that level. Miller was the backup for the United States in Sochi and was in the nets in 2010 when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal for Canada - we're betting Miller still hears "IGGY" in his nightmares.
Miller has never won a Stanley Cup either and if he returns to Vancouver next season there's no chance he even comes close. He could sign on with a veteran-laden team and hope to chase a championship as a backup goaltender, but given his competitive spirit he might just hold out and play for the Olympic team instead.
10 Won't: Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid is like Sidney Crosby in every which way, so it shouldn't be surprising that No. 97 won't go to the Olympics. To begin with, as a third-year player, he doesn't exactly have the clout to disobey the league and, ultimately, his team. Secondly, the Oilers wouldn't allow him. If he were to go and suffer an injury, all hell would break loose in Edmonton.
It's a hypothetical situation that would never come to fruition anyhow, as McDavid is the future - and perhaps current - poster boy of the league and will obey the league's wishes. The real shame is that McDavid grew up with the Olympics as a big part of the hockey world, and likely won't get a chance to replicate the success of his predecessor, Crosby, on the international stage.
9 Will: Sergei Bobrovsky
Russia is going to need a goaltender too, right? Sure, there's probably some capable netminders in the KHL, but to really secure a gold medal it's going to take one of the world's best, even if other countries are icing their 'B,' 'C,' and 'D' teams. There's no better Russian goaltender in the NHL than Sergei Bobrovsky; in fact, there might be no better goaltender period than Bobrovsky, who, at this point, appears to be a lock for the 2016-17 Vezina Trophy.
The 28-year-old posted a 41-17-5 record this season to go along with a .931 save percentage and sparkling 2.06 goals against average. He'll be in the third year of a four-year deal next season and could potentially spurn the Blue Jackets and play in Russia if the money is right.
8 Won't: Auston Matthews
If Connor McDavid isn't going you can bet Auston Matthews won't. Though it'd be great to see both players showcase their skill for their respective countries at the Olympics, Matthews is even more apt than McDavid to say and do the right thing. As a second-year player next year playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, an organization now more disciplined and structured than any other (players aren't even allowed to grow beards in the season), there's no chance Matthews gets the green light from higher-ups to play for the United States.
His passion for his country is large, but so is his commitment to the NHL and the Maple Leafs. Given that he scored 40 goals as a rookie and came within three of winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, you can bet he isn't going to want to miss time next season as he chases his first major individual award.
7 Will: Patrik Laine
This might be wishful thinking, as we'd love one young megastar to spurn the NHL and live out his childhood dream, but there's at least a slight possibility Patrik Laine plays in the 2018 Olympics, especially depending on where his Winnipeg Jets sit at that time of the year.
Laine, despite playing a lot of hockey over the course of the past year, had originally planned to play for Finland at this year's World Championships in France; However, seemingly at the wish of his head coach Paul Maurice, he opted to turn down the invite. That might not have any bearing on whether or not he leaves to play in the Olympics, but perhaps he asks the Jets organization to return the favor when the time comes.
6 Won't: Nicklas Backstrom
Nicklas Backstrom is one of the most underrated players in the league, and perhaps even in contention for best player in the league. On any given night, he can change the outcome of a game with his superior playmaking skills; the problem is, he plays on a team with Alex Ovechkin, who receives the bulk of the credit. Backstrom, in a sense, plays second fiddle to Ovie.
And that will be the case once again when the Olympics roll around. If Ovechkin is as determined to go to South Korea as he says he is, there's no way the Capitals would be OK with losing another star player in Backstrom for a significant period. He unfortunately missed the gold medal game in Sochi and would likely love to go, but he'll stay behind and help out in Washington with Ovechkin gone.
5 Will: Alex Radulov
As of right now, Alexander Radulov isn't signed to an NHL contract beyond this season. The former Nashville Predators draft pick is a dynamic offensive player and proved as much after coming back to the NHL to sign with the Montreal Canadiens this season.
There were rumors of Radulov signing a long-term extension with the Canadiens early in the season, and, while it's a great fit, those talks died down as the season progressed. That might be a case of both parties preferring to wait until the offseason, but Radulov doesn't exactly have a history of wanting to stay in the NHL when he could make more tax-free money in Russia. Might he be re-considering an extension to, at the very least, play one year in the KHL and play in the Olympics? It's a very real possibility.
4 Won't: Drew Doughty
Like some of the Canadians above, Drew Doughty has accomplished enough at the Olympics. The Los Angeles Kings defenseman has two gold medals, despite still being in his 20s, and was one of Canada's best defenseman in both tournaments. He simply has nothing to gain at that level and it appears unlikely that any other Canadians will make the leap.
Furthermore, the Kings recently cleaned house, firing general manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter. Former players Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille are now running operations in Los Angeles and you can bet Doughty has the utmost respect for both players and would prefer not to make their jobs any harder. Besides, he's far too important to the Kings and their long-shot playoff chances next season.
3 Will: Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov has a number of factors working in his favor in regard to attending the 2018 Olympics. Most importantly, he's from Russia, but secondly, he'll be 39-years-old by then and likely playing his final season in the league. In fact, Markov, who's three-year, $17.25 million contract expires at the end of this season, may already be playing in Russia by next season.
There's a strong likelihood he returns for one more season with the Canadiens, and also a chance he might outright retire, but even if that happens he'll be a candidate to play during the Olympics. Markov could provide stability and valuable leadership to an uncertain Russian defense corps. The longtime Canadien' has played in 990 regular season games in the NHL and has 572 career points.
2 Won't: Jaromir Jagr
Given his age, you might think Jaromir Jagr would be one player that's a strong candidate to play in South Korea. There's no reports yet as to whether or not the Florida Panthers want to bring him back next season, but the 45-year-old is still a productive NHL player, having recorded 46 points this past season.
The Czech winger is on record as stating he wants to play in the league until he's 50 and he could very well do it given his commitment and dedication to fitness. If he's going to do that, whether it's with the Panthers or not, chances are his team isn't going to be happy with him leaving midway through the year to participate in the Olympics. Any contract he signs will come with the general understanding that he's not going anywhere.
1 Will: Jarome Iginla
This is a pure hunch, but it could be possible depending on where - and if - Jarome Iginla plays next season. The future Hall of Famer will be 40-years-old during the 2018 Olympics, and while it's possible he signs a one-year contract with a team looking for experience, his production has diminished drastically in recent seasons as has his foot speed.
There hasn't been any whispers of retirement, but it's a very real possibility for Iginla. Even if he wants to return at the league minimum, he might not find very many suitors. His best bet is retire and make himself available for another run at an Olympic gold medal. If that doesn't happen, Canadians should keep an eye out for "Captain Canada" Ryan Smyth, who, despite being retired, is currently playing semi-professional hockey in his home province of Alberta.