SBD/February 18, 2014/Olympics

Bettman Happy With Olympic Tourney, But Non-Committal About Future NHL Participation

Bettman insisted NHL players need to be on board for Olympics participation
The NHL this morning was "non-committal" about future participation in the Olympics, leaving "open the possibility that the Sochi Games might be the last to showcase the world's best players," according to Steve Keating of REUTERS. Talk in North America "persists that Sochi will mark the final time that NHL players will be seen on Olympic ice." But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman today "insisted nothing has been decided and negotiations would continue, as has been the case after every Winter Games." He said, "Let's try to be very clear, it's nothing that's been discussed, it's nothing that will be discussed while we are here in Sochi." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr added that the union "will not back going to Pyeongchang until the membership has been briefed and had detailed discussions." Keating notes while the NHL "waited until the last minute" to confirm its participation in Sochi, the league is "expected to move quickly to make a decision on Pyeongchang" (REUTERS, 2/18). Bettman said, "None of this moves forward, if it moves forward at all, ... if the players don't want to play. If the players ever said, we're not interested, we're not going to force them to go." The AP's Larry Lage notes neither the NHL nor the NHLPA "want to be tied to a timetable" for a decision. Fehr: "We'll get a sense of what people are thinking over the next 12, 16 months. ... We have our board meeting this summer, and I'm sure it'll be a topic of some discussion" (AP, 2/18). More Bettman: "There's good to being at an Olympics and there's some not so good, and it's a balancing act. The not so good has to do with, obviously, disrupting our season, which has a disproportionate impact on some of our clubs. We have some NHL teams with 10 players here and some with two. There are 550 players who are on vacation, so our teams are going to come back in a little bit different shape" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 2/18).

SOCHI SET-UP PRAISED: In L.A., Helene Elliott reports Bettman, Fehr and Fasel all "praised the Sochi organizers and setup" of the Olympic hockey tournament. Fehr has been an "outspoken advocate of NHL players competing in international tournaments." He said that he has "heard no complaints from players here." However, Elliott notes some NHL owners, including the Flyers' Ed Snider, are "known to oppose shutting down the league during the middle of the season to accommodate their players taking part in the Games." In addition, the time difference between North America and Korea "might adversely impact the direct and indirect benefits of NHL players competing in Pyeongchang." Meanwhile, Fehr and Bettman both said that discussions "have proceeded on reviving the World Cup tournament" (L.A. TIMES, 2/18). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that it is "possible that the NHL could participate in both the World Cup and Olympics, perhaps rotating every two years, but a decision hasn’t been made yet" (SUNTIMES.com, 2/18). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek notes Bettman "didn't say if reviving the World Cup ... would preclude any future NHL Olympic participation." Bettman and Fasel spent the "better part of 20 minutes dancing around the issue." Duhatschek notes Bettman "wasn’t budging off the company line." Fasel "unequivocally supports" the Olympics, but also "knows from past experience that pressing Bettman for a commitment at this stage of the proceedings is fruitless, so he doesn’t bother" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/18).

A LITTLE BACK-AND-FORTH: In Chicago, Mark Lazerus reports Fasel is the "biggest supporter of NHL participation, while Bettman has long been ambivalent at best, particularly for the more far-flung Games." However, the two were "playfully bantering" during a press conference today. Fasel said, “It’s so nice to be with Gary and fight in New York and have some discussions. With the players, I’m so pleased they want to go. There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing.” Bettman interjected: “Except for winning the Stanley Cup.” Fasel: “As I said, the Olympic gold medal, you cannot replace it. Look at the faces here next Sunday when the players will get the Olympic gold medal. So different.” Bettman: “It would be like winning the Stanley Cup” (SUNTIMES.com, 2/18).

SHOULD THEY STAY OR SHOULD THEY GO?
In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins writes the negatives of allowing NHLers to participate in the Olympics "are obvious and understandable." But the league "assuredly benefits from the exposure that the Olympics provide to a broader audience that might not otherwise care about its product." The Olympics provide the NHL "a big stage to showcase its sport and give new viewers a glimpse of the high-end talent" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/18). In Detroit, Jamie Samuelsen wrote the "two weeks of hockey that we're getting is well worth any price a hockey fan could pay" (FREEP.com, 2/17). SPORTSNET's Chris Johnston wrote there is "nothing that could happen in an NHL game that would generate so much buzz across" the U.S. (SPORTSNET.ca, 2/17). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell writes the problem is it is "difficult to quantify what that kind of exposure means to the NHL brand." How do you "measure the impact" of U.S. RW T.J. Oshie "being tweeted" by President Obama? (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 2/18). In DC, Mike Harris writes under the header, "NHL Keeping Players Out Of Future Olympics Would Win Gold For Stupidity" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/18). However, in Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes NHL owners "are tired of lining the IOC’s pockets at their own expense." They "realized a while ago that Olympic hockey doesn’t promote the game." All it does is "reinforce it in traditional markets, and in such a way that tends to make the Stanley Cup look like a bit of an emotional letdown for a while" (TORONTO STAR, 2/18). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes, "However good the Olympics turn out to be, the Stanley Cup playoffs are better." The Olympics "are a burst, here and gone." The Stanley Cup playoffs are the "ongoing reality, not swifter or higher, but better" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/18).

MY CUP RUNNETH OVER: The CP's Stephen Whyno noted the Stanley Cup made an appearance at the Canada Olympic House yesterday, and the trophy "became a lightning rod for criticism." Former Canadian skier Brian Stemmle wrote on his Twitter feed, "Why is the Stanley Cup at Canada House in Sochi? Other athletes don't bring their trophies. Hate when hockey tries to overshadow other sports." COC President Marcel Aubut said that he "asked the NHL [to] bring the Cup to Canada Olympic House" (CP, 2/17). The Stanley Cup made "several stops around Olympic Park, including the USA House." Dozens of people "lined up to pose for pictures with it" (AP, 2/17). In Vancouver, Cam Cole notes observers could watch "skiers and sliders and skaters and curlers hug it and pose for pictures with it" (VANCOUVER SUN, 2/18). But the TORONTO STAR's Kelly wrote under the header, "Hockey Overshadowing Rest Of Sochi Olympics And That's Not A Good Thing" (TORONTO STAR, 2/18).
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