February 19, 2010
Did you hear about that big press conference? No, not Tiger Woods doing a public reading of his little black book and not taking any questions, I mean the one between International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday in Vancouver. It was one big public negotiation session in front of media that ended with no progress.
The question on the minds of everyone inside Canada Hockey Place on Thursday was Sochi 2014 and whether or not the NHL would send its players to the next Winter Olympics. With Fasel and Bettman together, what other questions would the media really be interested in anyway? Bettman, not wanting to show his hand with CBA negotiations still a few years away, spelled out the numerous con's expressed by the League and some owners like shutting down for two weeks and the money lost by some teams, but ended on a positive saying that "we're here (only) because we think it helps our game." Bettman wouldn't budge and remained noncommittal also adding, "Let me be very clear on this. Our relationship with the KHL has absolutely nothing to do with going to Sochi." We'll obviously see the truth in that statement if there remains a lack of a transfer agreement with Russia as we head towards 2014.
Bettman continued to argue his case yesterday on NHL Live!:
"These Olympics are going to be terrific. I have no doubt about that," Bettman continued. "We're in Vancouver, this is hockey country. But what is really going to be a determining factor going forward is exactly what we think we need to make the (Olympic) break worth it. What can we do to make the experience better and get the joint cooperation we need, and how to deal with the logistics of it all. At 30,000 feet, looking at the Olympic experience is great, but we get the complaints regarding the schedule that we have and the injuries because of the compressed schedule.
He also explained that the lack of control is a sticking point:
"That's a little hard to respond to because I'm not watching the games on television," Bettman said. "But this is one of the things we don't have control over. We bring in 140-plus players and we participate in the Olympics by stopping our season for two weeks, but this is the IOC's show, the broadcasters' show and the IIHF's show. There are a lot of things we don't have control over and going forward, it may be we need to be a little more involved than at least to this point we've been allowed to be."
Fasel, doing his job to help further the game of international hockey, continued pressing Bettman to make a decision and argued that the effort needed to allow NHLers to play in the Olympics is worth it for the betterment of the game. Easy for Fasel to say, it's not his money that's on the ice risking injury or out of his pocket to shut down business for two weeks.
As we wrote about on Sunday, the fans love watching their players in the Olympics and the players have not stopped giving rave reviews about the experience. If the rest of the tournament provides memorable games - like the Canada-Switzerland game yesterday - and a team filled with majority of NHLers wins gold, the pressure will be there to take another two-week break come February of 2014. But of course, not without Bettman and the owners bargaining the Olympics for some concessions from the NHLPA when labor talks come around.