Before the expansion draft that brought the Vegas Golden Knights to life and a free agency period that reshaped rosters, a common theme of the 2017 NHL offseason was the league's staunch and repeated nixing of Olympics participation for the upcoming season.
The NHL, with backing from commissioner Gary Bettman and a series of statements that deemed the matter "officially closed," confirmed its refusal to break up the 2017-18 season to allow player participation in the PyeongChang Games in April. Backlash from high-profile players and Olympics enthusiasts like Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson and Henrik Lundqvist didn't alter the NHL's stance, even though the committee organizing the games in South Korea publicly held out hope for a change of heart.
Still, a report from Alexei Shevchenko, relayed by Sport-Express Russian correspondent Slava Malamud via Twitter this week, suggests the NHL hasn't completely abandoned the possibility of giving the green light for NHL participation at the Olympics.
Russian NHL players, according to Malamud, have told Shevchenko "the league has a backup schedule with an Olympic break" and the NHL "may yet cave" after "facing a fierce pushback from, among others, Sidney Crosby on Olympic participation."
Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynksi piggybacked on the report Thursday, getting the following response from unnamed league sources, who were asked whether the NHL does, in fact, have an alternative schedule behind closed doors: "I don't know."
What does it all mean?
In the short term, probably not much. Perhaps Malamud, who was behind a report that Vladimir Putin's "inner circle" put pressure on Ilya Kovalchuk to abandon an NHL comeback and return to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League in 2017-18, is passing along credible information. As implausible as an "alternative" schedule sounds, it makes sense considering the pressure the league has faced for shying away from PyeongChang. But there are plenty of hurdles to clear, like the league's relationship with the NHL Players Association, before such a drastic reverse of course could actually happen.
If anything, though, talk of a "backup schedule" could rightfully reignite arguments for Olympic participation. The injury risk and unpleasant schedule interruption to accommodate Winter Games participants are annoyances, sure. But the bigger annoyance in the eyes of fans, some of the more prominent faces of the NHL and perhaps anyone else with an interest in seeing the league capitalize on a global-stage opportunity might be a continued refusal to embrace the Olympics.