Dan Rosen of NHL.com spoke with deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who said that there has been little progress in talks about the league sending players to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but that a decision will be made by November or December. The league is trying to speed up the decision-making process, Daly said, as the end of the year will be too late for schedule-makers who are trying to set up the 2017-18 season. Whether or not the NHL sends it’s players to the next Olympics will greatly impact the structure and length of next season. The reported hold up in those negotiations has been cost issues facing the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as the NHL is looking for fair value in putting a halt to their season and exposing their players to injury risks only for exposure in a non-traditional hockey country. While players, like Alex Ovechkin, have already committed to playing in the Olympics, regardless of the NHL’s stance, Daly has said that it would be a “club issue” for those players that choose to leave. As far as the league goes, Daly feels more negatively toward the situation now than he did just a few weeks ago, and the NHL skipping out on Pyeongchang is becoming a real possibility. However, it has been reported by multiple sources that not competing in 2018 might not signal the absolute end of NHL participation in the Winter Games. The 2022 Olympics are scheduled to take place in Beijing, and China is a very populous country that has just begun to embrace the sport of hockey, as shown by the establishment of KHL team Kunlun Red Star, who are currently taking part in their inaugural season. In 2026, Calgary, Canada, Stockholm, Sweden, and multiple cities in both the United States and Switzerland have been confirmed as potential bids for the Games, all of which would be strong markets for NHL hockey. Whether the NHL will (or should) take part in the 2018 games will be decided shortly, but regardless the NHL and the Olympic Games have a future together.
In other league news:
- Continued participation in the Winter Olympics will not deter the extended existence of the World Cup of Hockey. ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun reports that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed that the World Cup is “here to stay”. Although the structure of the tournament could change, the games will continue to be played every fourth year. Building off the successes – and failures – of this World Cup, decision-makers moving forward will have to evaluate the viability of teams like Europe and North America, as well as consider many different locations and formats for the tournament. One way or another, expect the World Cup of Hockey to become a regular event in the future of the sport.
- While the NHL and the Player’s Association agree on the World Cup, that may be where their good terms end. At least one insider believes that another lockout is a “foregone conclusion” in 2020. Octagon Sports player agent Allan Walsh stated as much in a recent tweet, though no further evidence was provided to support it. With recent labor struggles having put a prominent stain on the league’s reputation, one has to think the commissioner Gary Bettman will do all that he can to avoid yet another lockout, which would be the third since the turn of the century.
- In happier news for hockey fans, the game’s most legendary player has returned to a role with the NHL. The league announced that it’s ambassador for it’s centennial celebration in 2017 will be none other than “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky. The legendary player will make a multitude of appearances throughout the year, trying to bring together generations of fans for the league’s 100-year celebration.
- Part of that celebration is the addition of a second outdoor game around the holidays. The Winter Classic, between the host Blues and the Blackhawks will take place on January 2nd of 2017, as opposed to it’s regular date of January 1st, as New Year’s Day will be reserved for the Centennial Classic in Toronto between the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Later in the month, the Penguins and Flyers will also face-off in an outdoor showdown. The league released the logos for both the Centennial Classic and Stadium Series game today, as the PR machine is already running for the year-long celebration that’s on the horizon. Additionally, the league is reportedly looking to schedule yet another outdoor game, in Montreal, for the beginning of the 2017-18 season.