PALM BEACH, Fla. – NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there was “strong negative sentiment” from the league’s Board of Governors towards shutting down for two weeks so players could participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
After the first day of the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting, Bettman painted a grim picture towards the possibility of the league allowing its players to go to the next Games. The NHL has sent players to Games starting in 1998 in Nagano through Sochi in 2014, but now believes the Olympics may not provide a tangible, positive impact on its product anymore.
There was no official vote from the governors, and the league has said in the past that it would like to make a decision by January.
“There are a lot of owners, a lot of clubs, over the years that have been very concerned about what Olympic participation does to the season. What it does to players in terms of injuries. Not just those that go, but having a compressed schedule can make players more tired, more wear and tear on them, the potential for injury is greater,” Bettman said. “I think after doing five of these, I don’t know. I think ‘fatigue’ might be a word.”
Some governors noted that another shot at the Olympics may not be in the NHL’s best interest.
“I can only speak for myself and for the status of Arizona. First off, I understand the players’ desire to want to be a part of it but from running a business perspective it’s a difficult thing for us,” Arizona Coyotes co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said. “Shutting down for two and a half weeks and for any franchise it’s difficult but it’s even more difficult for us because of the fact, it’s no secret that our prime time so to speak is January onward. Shutting down for close to three weeks and what is arguably our busiest month from a tourism perspective is very, very difficult for us.”
Said Los Angeles Kings president for business operations, Luc Robitaille, “Well, you know, it’s always great to promote the game to go outside, but at the end of the day it’s a lot of the same guys going over and over again and it’s taxing. Sidney Crosby has done a lot for the league and for his country and by the time the next Olympics come he’ll be 30 and you want to make sure we get the best out of these players for the fans that pay season seats and watch the games on TV in North America. I know it’s not there yet. I know there are going to be a lot of negotiations the next few months but we’ll see what happens.”
NHL governors pointed out that they have seen some positive growth of the game when their players participate in Olympics in North America. When they’re outside the continent, the events don’t pop at the same level.
“I’ve been in all the Olympics in recent history, Nagano, Torino, I’m not sure what the benefit was to the NHL. Salt Lake City and Vancouver? Absolutely,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. “It’s a big, big question with … probably everybody’s right to a certain extent. At the end of the day, the NHL and our 82-game schedule has to come first. That would be the foundation of my decision.”
NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin has said he’ll go to the 2018 Games, even if the league shuts down. Bettman wouldn’t answer a question on if defying the NHL to go to the Olympics would mean a player will have breached his contract or what it would mean in general for the player.
“We’re not going to go there today. There’s no reason to,” Bettman said. “No decision has been made, nobody is issuing any threats or edicts so we’ll save that answer for a different time.”
Bettman said the report that the NHL used the 2018 Pyeongchang Games as a negotiating chip with the NHLPA – offering Olympic participation for an extension of the collective bargaining agreement – was not true in how it was portrayed.
He said that in a November discussion about Olympic participation with the NHLPA, the NHL brought up the possibility of a longer international schedule and explained how the CBA could impact future events.
Both the NHL and NHLPA can opt to reopen the CBA in 2019 for a 2020 end date, which would be an issue if the league and PA find themselves bargaining before a 2020 World Cup. If neither side decides to reopen the CBA, it will expire in 2022. The last time the NHL and NHLPA were bargaining during an international event was the 2004 World Cup, which was marred by labor unrest. The NHL locked out shortly after the 2004 World Cup for the entire 2004-05 season.
Bettman said he offered the idea of trying to figure out the best way to keep labor peace around international events that involve a 2020 World Cup, the 2018 Olympics and 2022 Olympics and a previously reported Ryder Cup type event.
“So if you look at the calendar and you play it out in the logical sequences of the way these events get played, we said, ‘if you look at the calendar and you get rid of the (CBA) reopeners and you extend by three years, that gets you two Olympics, two World Cups and two Ryder Cups, whatever form the Ryder Cup takes. Most importantly it tells the world and our fans there’s nine years of labor peace after this season, which we thought would be a good thing even if there were things we might want to change,” Bettman said. “I hadn’t discussed this with any of the owners, and so maybe this was something we should each talk about because if the Olympics weren’t just a one-off for Pyeongchang, maybe those owners who think going to the Olympics has had run its course, might think better in the context of something broader.”
The International Olympic Committee had said that it wouldn’t pay the insurance and travel for players in 2018, which was a major issue for the NHL. But the International Ice Hockey Federation stepped up and said it would figure out a way to pay the costs.
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