LOS ANGELES – The NHL expressed its most dire outlook for Olympic participation yet at its All-Star Weekend, as a decision on the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang draws closer.
“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “As of right now, there’s not a will [to participate].”
Daly and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman take their cues from the Board of Governors, made up of the NHL’s owners. At first, it appeared cost was the issue, as the International Olympic Committee said it would no longer fund NHL player participation in the Games. While the NHL isn’t thrilled with how it was done, the International Ice Hockey Federation has “found the money” to cover those costs.
But now it appears it’s no longer about the money, according to Bettman — it’s about the Board of Governors no longer wanting to shut down the season in 2018.
“I think there’s concern from teams about the ongoing disruption in the season. The schedule. A whole host of other things. I’ve never said that just raising the money was the issue,” Bettman said on Saturday.
“What I think has happened is that there were some owners, over time, who probably though the Olympics were a good idea. There were some that always hated it. And then there were some clubs that didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said they’re not going to pay the expenses. And that’s when they said, ‘wait a minute why are we knocking ourselves out [to go]?”
The Board of Governors meeting on Saturday featured “10 seconds” of talk about the Olympics, which is slightly longer than it takes to say “Pyeongchang.” There’s little to talk about, Daly said, because the discussions need a “game-changer” that’s yet to arrive.
“I don’t know what that ‘something’ is, that we can bring to the Board of Governors,” he said. “If there was a compelling reason that we could bring to the Board, we would present it to them.”
Daly shot down the idea that Bettman was working to convince the owners to sent their players to South Korea. After all, it was Bettman who originally convinced the League to send its players in 1998. “He saw the benefit of shutting down the season and going. But a lot has happened since then. I think the League has come a long way since then. I think that the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our Board now,” said Daly.
“Quite frankly, we don’t see what the benefit is from a League standpoint to Olympics participation.”
The money situation makes that decision all the more precarious. Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF, has said that it will cover costs, but much of that funding will be from member nations who will divert it from their own hockey development budgets. At least that’s been the indication.
“I’m not putting this at the IIHF’s feet, but we don’t have all the information about where the money is coming from, and how much exactly they’re picking up. But then again, they could give us all the information and that might not move the needle anyway,” said Daly.
If NHL participation is coming at the cost of hockey development, Bettman doesn’t agree with it. “I have on some level, perhaps it’s emotional, a real problem with funding that would otherwise go to hockey development being used for this purpose,” he said.
The NHL’s decision on Olympic participation is impacting a great number of things. The site of the next NHL All-Star Game has yet to be announced, because no one’s sure if there will be one. There are two different schedules being considered, on with an Olympic break and one without it.
Then there are the players. The NHLPA has been in favor of continuing Olympic participation, with players like Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals claiming they would leave for the 2018 Games whether or not the NHL shuts the season down.
“I said what I said before. I’m pretty sure everybody wants to go,” said Ovechkin on Saturday. “All my teammates in Washington, they want to go. I think it’s great for hockey, great for us.”
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