The vibes from the recent NHL Board of Governors meeting regarding 2018 Winter Olympics participation were strongly negative, according to no less an authority than commissioner Gary Bettman.
“I think after doing five of these, I don’t know, fatigue might be a word,” said Bettman of his owners’ desire to send players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
That’s one issue. Another is the IOC’s decision to dial back its funding – of travel, insurance, and other considerations – rather than adding to it, which was the NHL’s desire for this Olympiad. IIHF President Rene Fasel said that he could find the $10 million it could take to cover that gap, but there’s been concern that the funding could be diverted from member nations’ hockey federations.
“If it means taking it away form hockey development I’m not so sure that that’s a good idea,” said Bettman.
All of this leads to uncertainty about the 2018 Games, which puts the United States Olympic Committee in a difficult spot.
“We’re still very, very hopeful that the NHL players will be there. We know that want to be there,” said Scott Blackmun, USOC CEO, when asked on Tuesday. “We understand the challenges that it creates for the league, and we’re certainly exploring all avenues for that to happen.”
But one of those avenues has to be “what do we do if Team USA isn’t populated with NHL players?”
They’ve discussed it, although they’re keeping those possibilities close to the vest. “We have had discussions with USA Hockey about Plan B, if that doesn’t happen. Obviously is creates more challenges for us, and for them, from an organizational standpoint,” said Blackmun.
Obviously, the first potential fix is going back to how the team was assembled before NHL Olympic participation: Young players not playing in the NHL, some of whom will still need NHL team clearance to participate in the Games because they’re in the system. Like in 1994, when Team USA needed the New Jersey Devils to sign off on Brian Rolston and the Calgary Flames to give permission to Ted Drury to participate, among others.
(The goalie on that team? New York Islanders GM Garth Snow!)
But obviously, Plan A remains getting NHL players in the Olympics. To that end, Elliotte Friedman had some really interesting news about what was on the table between the NHL and the NHLPA:
We’re talking two Olympic Games (2018 and 2022); two World Cups (2020 and 2024); two “Ryder Cup-style” events (probably 2019 and 2023); two exhibition games in China as soon as next season (Los Angeles/Vancouver) with more to come; and two regular-season games in Europe (teams TBA) with more to come.
The Ryder Cup would likely replace the All-Star Game in those years, and could be played overseas. When John Collins was the NHL’s COO, he thought about playing it in London. The league’s pitch here is, “This is where we can raise more money, maybe alleviate your escrow concerns.”
But remember, kids, the NHL is super concerned that the Olympics put too much of a strain on the players’ already jam-packed schedule …
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