NHL Involvement In Sochi Games "Went Well," But IOC Approaching With Caution
A decision on whether NHL players will "head to the 2014 Sochi Olympics isn't likely this week, but a first day of discussions" between the league, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC on Thursday "went well," according to Ira Podell of the AP. There are "obstacles in the process, but the sides will get back together on Friday to talk." While a "final decision isn't required this week, one will have to be reached in the near future." It is "believed hockey federations will need to know by May what players will be available for their teams." After "enduring a long lockout that produced a shortened regular season this year, the NHL is weighing whether it is worth shutting down the game for more than two weeks next season to allow its players to go to Russia" (AP, 2/14). REUTERS' Steve Keating wrote it is believed that NHL execs "wants to be treated more like a rights holder or an Olympic top sponsor such as McDonald’s, able to trade on the Olympic brand to help sell and promote their product the same way the fast food chain uses its sponsorship to sell hamburgers." Meanwhile, the IOC is "approaching the talks with considerable caution, keenly aware that giving into any NHL demands would leave them on a slippery slope" with the NBA and other sports "looking on with interest." During the '12 London Games, track and field athletes "created a stir with their demands for a slice of the IOC revenue pie and the ability to make money from their Olympic participation." Coming out of a "four month lockout that alienated fans and reduced the NHL season to 48 games, the league is under pressure to repair its damaged image." The IOC is "sure to have an ally in NBC, which paid billions for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Sochi Games and could exert pressure on the NHL to get players to Russia after inking" a 10-year $2B television deal with the league in '11 (REUTERS, 2/14).
GETTING SUPPORT: Lightning VP & GM Steve Yzerman said, "It's the biggest stage in the world to market our players. The Olympics is one time the world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because they are the best in the world" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/15). Flyers RW Jakub Voracek said, "I don't know why it's even a discussion why we shouldn't go to the Olympics. I could see if it was every year, but it's only every 4 years. I don't know why they couldn't work out the schedule right now. For most of us players, it's a dream come true to be an Olympian for your home country. I would be pretty sad if we couldn't." Flyers D Kimmo Timonen added, "Not just thinking about myself, it's good for hockey. Hockeywise, it's great, full rinks and people love hockey. As a player, if we can go there, I'm happy to do it." Flyers RW Claude Giroux said, "Obviously, it would be hard on your body, but you don't think twice about it" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/15). Canucks G Corey Schneider said, "I think the fans want to see that. I think the players realistically would want to go do that. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think we'd all be in favor of it." However, the AP's Dan Gelston wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "plenty of reasons to keep the NHL home next winter" (AP, 2/13).
ON THE FLIP SIDE...: Capitals coach Adam Oates wonders, "How do you feel if one of your players goes over and gets hurt?" In DC, Stephen Whyno notes while Oates "understands the value of Olympic participation to the promotion of hockey, he doesn’t believe NHL players belong there." Oates: "Is it good for hockey that they do it? Great. But I grew up trying to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, not Team Canada. Didn’t even know it existed" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/15).
ON HOLD: In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted planning for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team is "on hold until the NHL decides whether to send its players to the Sochi Games." USA Hockey Assistant Exec Dir of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson said that a GM and coach for the men's Olympic team "would be named after the Stanley Cup playoffs conclude at the end of June." But, he added that USA Hockey would "wait until the NHL made a decision 'before we make any moves along that line'" (NYTIMES.com, 2/14).