NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took the stage today in Toronto at the PrimeTime Sports Management conference, and was asked a multitude of questions regarding the upcoming 2018 Olympic Games and the possibility of expansion in the future. Emily Kaplan of ESPN was there and reported on the highlights, including one particularly chilling Olympic answer.
One: [IOC President] Thomas Bach said if you don’t go to Korea, you can’t come to Beijing. Well, OK. Thank you. The second is, if the Winter Olympics comes back to North America, I’m not saying we’d go, but it’s a different equation.
The mention of Beijing of course refers to the 2022 Olympics set to be held in China, a Games that there is no guarantee the NHL will return for. There is clearly a desire from the players to go to the international tournament, as stars from Alex Ovechkin to Connor McDavid to Drew Doughty have all expressed their disappointment this year. Not every player gets many chances to represent his country at a tournament as highly-regarded as the Olympics, but perhaps the NHL is trying to change that. Bettman brought up the World Cup, a NHL-NHLPA owned event that had a so-so reception from the hockey world last fall. The league wants to hold that tournament every four years, which would essentially replace the Olympics in some sense.
It is interesting that Bettman mentioned the North American factor, as just today Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to reporters including Donna Spencer of the Canadian Press about the city’s potential 2026 bid.
It’s council’s choice, it’s Calgary’s choice, but if we choose to bid, we’ll win. The question is, is it right for Calgary right now? If it’s right for Calgary, then we will go all guns in. I think that we will have an incredibly powerful bid and I think we’ll win.
The return of the Winter Olympics to Canadian soil would surely come with public outcry for the league to return, and Bettman has obviously already had discussions about that exact scenario. There is by no means a guarantee that Calgary submits a bid (in fact, today’s comments may lean towards them abandoning the project) but it is nice to hear that the league admits it would be a different situation should they come back to North America.
Interestingly, the current President of the IIHF Rene Fasel also announced that he will retire from his position in 2020 when his term is up. While there is no indication that would change anything between them, the IOC and the NHL, it could spark at least some more dialogue on how to get the best players in the world back competing.
Much of the Olympic and World Cup talk though revolves around what will happen in 2019 when both the NHL and NHLPA have opt-outs from the current CBA. That would cancel the agreement in 2020, meaning a possible work stoppage is again on the horizon. Bettman talked about how he hates work stoppages, but would do whatever is needed to secure a solid future for the game. With a dispute over escrow becoming the main talking point between the two sides, the next two years should be filled with hard-nosed negotiations and media mud-slinging. For fans of a sport that’s seen a season and a half already lost to work stoppages in the last 15 years, the possibility of another one is a crippling thought.
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