DETROIT – The NHL is not only considering more outdoor games. It is considering more overseas games. Chief operating officer John Collins referred Sunday to a “European business plan” and ideas ranging from resurrecting the World Cup to starting something like a champions league.
But first the NHL has to reach a deal to go to the Sochi Olympics, which are less than a year away now. There remain several open issues between the NHL, the NHL Players’ Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee. The four organizations will meet this week.
“We’ve got to get to it sooner rather than later,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said, “because doing next year’s schedule is obviously impacted by whether or not we go to the Olympics.”
A primary issue appears to be insurance – who will pay to cover the contracts of NHLers putting their bodies at risk. But it goes beyond that. It includes branding and media rights for the NHL, access to venues for NHL officials and families, and transportation to and from Sochi. Bettman would not provide detail of how much progress has been made so far.
“There are lots of issues,” Bettman said. “This doesn’t get done until all the essential elements get done, and so it doesn’t pay to focus on any one or two issues.”
Mathieu Schneider, the special assistant to NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, said the Olympics would be “a logistical nightmare” but said he was optimistic a deal would get done. He praised IIHF president Rene Fasel for bringing the sides together.
“If it’s done properly, it could be an amazing hockey experience for everyone,” Schneider said. “Obviously the players want to go. The guys want to be there. That’s no secret.”
Collins said the fate of the Premiere Games is tied to the Olympic Games. The NHL is not expected to send teams to Europe to start the regular season if it sends players to Sochi in mid-season. But the NHL could stage more than the Premiere Games in the future. The NHL and the NHLPA are considering a nation-on-nation tournament like the World Cup and a champions league concept.
“Maybe we bring NHL teams over to play the best teams in Europe,” Collins said. “How do we stage that, and where do we play? That’s definitely something that we’re looking at.”