It’s become increasingly obvious that the NHL’s heel-dragging on Olympic participation has less to do with the deleterious effects the quadrennial break has on its regular season and more with how much the League can squeeze out of its thirsty Winter Games partners: The IOC, the IIHF, the television networks in Canada and the U.S. and, above all, the players.
Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com asked NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr about that last group. The speculation for the last several months was that Commissioner Gary Bettman was holding Olympic participation hostage to squeeze two more years out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which expires in 2022 but which has an opt-out for the players in 2020.
Fehr told him “effectively a two-year extension of the agreement” didn’t interest the players.
“I don’t know what it can be from the players’ perspective,’’ Fehr told ESPN in a phone interview Thursday. “Obviously the players are not about to engage in collective bargaining in return for getting an opportunity to go to the Olympics for which they aren’t being paid, where very valuable things would go elsewhere in return for that.’’
Fehr also noted something that’s also become increasingly obvious: That Gary Bettman, a guy who knows his way around hard deadlines for big labor decisions, hasn’t set one yet for the Olympics.
“As far as the players are concerned, there’s no hard and fast deadline. They’ll be ready to play,” Fehr said. “There may well be some from the NHL in terms of scheduling and planning and there may be some from the IOC and the IIHF in terms of alerting the federations and if so, they’ll make that plain. But from our standpoint, our job is to keep working at it, and trying, and thinking, and urging, and pleading, and cajoling, and whatever else you do, until we’re successful.”
(Cajoling is a great word.)
The current winds blowing around the hockey world are that the NHL players will ultimately go, but that the NHL is going to push this thing to seconds before midnight to see if it can grab an inch from the aforementioned parties.
Because if it doesn’t go … well, Erik Karlsson’s going to have an interesting conversation on his hands, isn’t he?
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