NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to media today following a Board of Governor’s meeting in Palm Beach, Florida. The Commissioner touched on Olympic participation, escrow payments, and the salary cap, but emphasized that no vote on Olympic participation was taken.
Concerning NHL participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Bettman stated that the sentiment was increasing negative. Ever the lawyer, Bettman does not indicate whether the increasingly negative feelings towards participating represents a majority of owners, or only a (growing) minority. Olympic participation is a complex issue for NHL owners as they have to weigh increasing exposure to the sport at the expense of potentially losing one of their star players for the year.
Bettman also indicated that it is “ambiguous” whether skipping 2018 forecloses NHL participation in 2022. The 2022 Winter Games are in China, and the NHL would love to gain a foothold in the Chinese sports market. Participation in 2022 may tip the scales and give NHL owners a reason to send players to the 2018 Olympics if owners are sufficiently worried that they would not otherwise be able to do so.
Turning to the CBA and the salary cap, Bettman clarified that the NHL did not offer to send players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in exchange for the NHLPA to agree to a three-year CBA extension. Rather, CBA extension talk was tethered to a larger conversation about international play and included a potential 2020 World Cup. Bettman did address the NHLPA’s concern over high escrow payments, stating simply that lowering the cap would lower escrow payments. Relatedly, he also announced that while there is no official decision on any salary cap movement, he expects that it may rise by “a couple of million.“