UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) — John Tavares' opinion on NHL players participating in the Olympic Games hasn't changed even though his New York Islanders' season ended on the other side of the world while he was wearing the colors of Canada.
"It's obviously a tough situation," the injured Islanders captain said Tuesday following his return from the Sochi Games. "I certainly love playing for my country, and if I got the call again, I would."
The 23-year-old Tavares tore the MCL and meniscus in his left knee a week ago against Latvia. He missed the final two games of Canada's march to the gold medal, and he will sit out the rest of the Islanders season.
The lone bright spot is Tavares was told by team doctors on Monday that he won't need surgery. After a rehab period of eight to 12 weeks, Tavares should be able to begin training for next season.
"It's been a pretty good first few days, actually," Tavares said Tuesday as he stood in front of reporters and cameramen for about 10 minutes inside the Islanders' dressing room while his teammates practiced at Nassau Coliseum. "My knee has responded really well. Having a gold medal has helped that as well, I think. It certainly was a tremendous experience.
"I'm still having a tough time (knowing) I'm not going to be playing for quite a while. I missed the last couple of games there, and those two games that I missed were the biggest ones, and ones as a kid if you ever got those opportunities ... there only might be one chance at that."
That is truer now than at any time since the NHL decided in 1998 it would take a multi-week break during Olympic years so its players could represent their countries.
Debate is heating up regarding whether the NHL benefits enough from the sacrifices it makes for the Olympics. Start times in this year's tournament were often early in the morning, and the time difference in four years in South Korea will be even less user-friendly for fans in North America.
Islanders forward Kyle Okposo wasn't picked for the U.S. team this time, but he said he isn't concerned about what will be in 2018.
"If guys aren't going to go, there is going to be some type of World Cup that guys are going to participate in," he said. "To represent your country at the Olympics is one of highest honors you can receive in your sport. Whatever they decide, I am sure the guys will still want to go regardless."
Then there is the injury factor. Tavares is the Islanders' biggest drawing card, and in a season in which the playoffs are a long shot for New York, fans have little incentive to trek out to games the rest of the way because No. 91 won't be on the ice.
"Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season-ticket holders now? It's a joke," Islanders general manager Garth Snow told Newsday last week. "They want all the benefits from NHL players playing in the Olympics and don't want to pay when our best player gets hurt.