NHL Owners, Players Butt Heads On Olympic Participation As NBC Urges It Continue
NHL players "remain strongly in favor" of participating in future Olympics, but the "anti-Olympic faction among owners and executives has many reasons for saying no to Pyeongchang, and last week’s roll call of players who were injured at the Sochi Games touched off a renewed sense of opposition," according to Klein & Hackel of the N.Y. TIMES. Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs "outlined the struggle within the league" over '18. Jacobs in an e-mail acknowledged the "importance of competing in the Olympics to many of our players." However, he "listed four main areas of concerns for the owners: shutting the league down for more than two weeks and its effect on fans and corporate partners; the risk of injury to the top players; mental and physical fatigue among those players; and the compressed schedule and 'the challenges it creates for the buildings.'" Klein & Hackel noted another "complicating issue is the presence of NBC, the NHL’s American television partner." The net paid $963M for the rights to the Pyeongchang Games and "wants NHL players on the ice there." NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said, "We’ve expressed that opinion to the National Hockey League and to the NHL Players’ Association. We can only tell them that this is our preference, that they’re there" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/23). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote if NBC "determines that NHL participation makes a significant impact on its Olympic revenue stream, it will make that known to the league’s power brokers," in which case the NHL would "move swiftly to please its primary television partner" (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/23).
YZERMAN HOPES THIS WASN'T THE END: The AP's Greg Beacham notes while Team Canada Exec Dir of Hockey Steve Yzerman is stepping down from his position, he hopes yesterday was not "his last chance to see the world's best players rewarded with gold." He said, "This is great for hockey. We're trying to grow our sport. The Olympics is the biggest stage worldwide, for any sport. I'm hopeful that the NHL stays. I recognize there are a lot of issues, but I think this is tremendous for our game, and I believe it's tremendous for the National Hockey League" (AP, 2/24). NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said, "Of all the players I have talked to in the National Hockey League over the last 15 years, I have not talked to one that doesn’t want to be an Olympian" (NEWSDAY.com, 2/21). But Red Wings associate coach Tom Renney said, "If I’m an owner and a general manager in this league, I’m real skeptical whether or not our guys should participate in this, quite honestly. If I'm a player, I want to go. Having been there, I can relate to that. That said, maybe the time has come for the Olympics to be an under-23 event" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 2/23).
FEHR OUTLINES NEXT STEPS: NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said after the Sochi Games "digest for a while," the union plans to "begin to talk to the players; we'll talk to the parents; we'll see what kind of reaction federations had." Fehr: "Then, I'm sure, at our executive board meeting this summer, we'll have long discussions. And either then or after my meeting with the players in the fall, the players will tell me what they want me to do and then I'll go try and do it" (ESPN.com, 2/22). In Toronto, Rosie DiManno writes if NHL owners "deny us" future Olympic participation, it is "up to the players’ union to insert continuing Olympic participation" into the next CBA (TORONTO STAR, 2/24).
PICKING & CHOOSING THEIR SPOTS? Capitals VP & GM George McPhee said that he would "like to see the league pick and choose which Olympics they participate in," as he "worries about the additional wear and tear on players" when the Games are held outside North America. McPhee: "I personally would rather not do it when it’s outside North America. I don’t know that it’s good for business to be shutting down for three weeks and subordinating ourselves to the Olympics. I think we’re a better league than that and we shouldn’t have to do that. I understand the appeal for some people but it’s tough when it’s overseas" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/23). ESPN's Barry Melrose said, “I think the NHL might pick and choose which Olympics they go in. Games in North America, Games in England, stuff like that -- they might go to. But Games that are crazy travel, different time zones, stuff like that -- they might bow out of” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/23).
OPINIONS CONTINUE TO VARY: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote team owners and execs opposed to Olympic participation will use the injuries to Islanders C John Tavares, Rangers RW Mats Zuccarello, Penguins D Paul Martin and Blue Jackets D Fedor Tyutin "as Exhibit A" in the case against shutting down every four years. Injuries "are an obvious risk" of Olympic participation, and the NHL "hasn’t yet been able to quantify the rewards that come from its league’s and its athletes’ partnership with sport’s quadrennial global celebration." However, Brooks wrote, "The NHL would be better served -- that means the industry of the NHL that includes the season subscribers who do still pay the freight -- by expanding its interaction and competition with the best in the Europe and by exploiting its association with the Olympics" (N.Y. POST, 2/23). ESPN's John Saunders said as "deep a risk as it is” that high-profile players could get hurt at the Olympics, it is a "risk the NHL needs to take every single Olympics” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 2/23). But in Philadelphia, Al Morganti wrote under the header, "Sochi Olympics A Waste Of Time For NHL." The presence of the NHL at the Olympics "not only diminishes the quality of hockey in the NHL and the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it also diminished the achievements by other athletes" at the Winter Games (PHILLY.com, 2/22). THE STREET's Jason Notte wrote the Winter Olympics in "an ideal world" would be "an ideal time for the NHL to show off its goodwill and be rewarded with tons of new casual hockey fans and lots of international growth for its efforts." NHL participation has "been a great thing" for both "casual and die-hard fans alike." That the Games "haven't converted the former into the latter in any discernible numbers, however, is a bad sign for a league that's been short on both stability and growth in its recent history." The NHL "shouldn't pull players because the fans can't handle it ... but because the league can't" (THESTREET.com, 2/21).