If it means the top players in the world return to Olympic participation, the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation are open to changing their relationship with the NHL. In a new and potentially game-changing shift in the status quo, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that the IOC and IIHF have decided that they would be willing to meet many of the demands previously made by the NHL in order to ensure the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China feature NHL talent.
Friedman reports that the two global organizations met in New York earlier this week and came to the conclusion that NHL participation would be worth ceding promotional rights and contributing greater financial assistance to the league. This would include paying injury insurance costs, as well as travel costs, as well as allowing the NHL to market their stars’ participation in the Winter Games, including the use of Olympic footage and marks. This checks all the boxes for the league’s previous demands for returning to the Olympics. As for their final complaint, that the Games are disruptive to the season, that argument has been considerably weakened by the league’s bye week format, which reduces game play by 50% in the weeks on either side of the All-Star break. If the league is comfortable with that break every year, it stands to reason that a slightly longer break once every four years is not “incredibly disruptive”.
With that said, the league is unlikely to accept these new terms with the IOC and IIHF without also gaining some leverage with the NHLPA as well. The NHL maintains the Olympic participation is a concession to the players and should be part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stated recently that even if the IOC and IIHF gave in to all of their demands – which it appears they have – the NHL would still like to tie the event to collective bargaining as part of balanced agreement with the Players’ Association for long-term labor peace. While the current CBA extends through 2022, making the argument for the Beijing Games moot, allowing NHL players to participate would still be a bargaining tool for the next agreement. Friedman reports that NHLPA is in fact encouraged by this latest development with the IOC and IIHF and does not seem opposed to making Olympic participation a bargained right for players moving forward. The NHL and NHLPA resume collective bargaining talks this Tuesday.
The IIHF had previously given the NHL a deadline of no later than the end of August 2020 to make a decision about Beijing 2022. Yet, Commissioner Gary Bettman responded that the NHL will make a decision when they are ready, not when they are told to. At the end of the day, the league has all of the leverage in talks with the international bodies. However, these concessions are a major step forward in a new agreement and the world’s top player returning to its biggest international stage. With many of their concerns now addressed, not to mention the global growth of the NHL brand in recent years, the odds are higher than they have ever been that the league will return to the Olympic Games.