The NHL sounded decidedly negative about participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics when discussing it during All-Star Weekend, with deputy commissioner Bill Daly saying that the League’s players wouldn’t be going to Pyeongchang barring a “game changer.”
IIHF President Rene Fasel, however, continues to sound cautiously optimistic about the NHL in the Olympics. He met with the NHL and the NHLPA in New York last week, a meeting that was also attended by IOC President Thomas Bach, whom the NHL lamented hadn’t been a part of previous meetings.
“We came out of these discussions with a clear comprehension of the issues at play. We did our homework ahead of our meeting in New York and were able to clarify many of the open questions that the owners and the PA had, especially relating to the questions of payments for insurance and travel,” Fasel told IIHF.com.
“To be clear, we were able to devise a financial framework that will cover these payments without drawing funds away from the IIHF’s development programs or those of our MNAs.”
Now, that’s interesting.
One of the biggest points of contention for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been that the IIHF would fill the funding gap created by the IOC, which has refused to fund NHL participation at previous levels, by using funds dog-eared for member nation development programs.
But it wasn’t the sole point of contention. “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 in Los Angeles.
In other words, it’s great to have the money, but the Board of Governors have issues beyond the money.
Fasel said that he expects an NHL decision by March for scheduling purposes, although the NHL has said it could be as late as June before making that decision. Fasel noted that other international Leagues also need to make their own schedules, as they also wait on the NHL.
So what if the NHL doesn’t go?
And if the answer is no? Is there a “Plan B”?
We discussed this as well, and as it stands now we would not deviate from the standard format for the Olympic men’s tournament. We would keep to the same rules, schedule, and playing format, and would not shift to something like an Under-23 tournament, for example.
That said, Olympic ice hockey has a wonderful and exciting history that goes further back than just Nagano. Look at the Swedes in Lillehammer, the Soviets in Cortina d’Ampezzo, and the Americans in Lake Placid… these are just some of the great moments we have witnessed playing under the Rings.
If we do not have the NHL in PyeongChang, I have zero doubt that the Olympic men’s tournament will still be as thrilling and competitive as any we have seen.
The interesting news here is that the Olympics wouldn’t switch to a U-23 tournament which, frankly, would have been an amazing response to the NHL’s decision not to go.
First, because it would have frozen out the veteran NHL players like Alex Ovechkin who have threatened to go, thereby keeping the pressure on the NHL rather than allowing the League to foist this decision onto its teams. If the NHL’s biggest non-North American names wanted to go, the entire NHL would have to go.
Second, because it would have offered a novelty that NHL players can’t produce: “Kids,” playing for their countries, with Olympic gold on the line. High-tempo, emotional games filled either with the stars of tomorrow or sudden heroes.
The Olympic hockey with NHL players is unparalleled. The only hope for the IOC and the IIHF, in its absence, would be to do something different. A U-23 tournament would have been different … although it may have also exposed the talent gap between nations even further. And good luck finding goalies, as Team North America will no doubt remind you.
So Fasel still sounds hopeful, even as the Olympics think about a ‘Plan B.’ Maybe this New York meeting made some positive progress.
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