A standoff between the National Hockey League and the International Olympic Committee continues with no end in sight. There is exactly one year before the opening ceremonies begin for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The NHL has downplayed its interest in participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics during the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. However, International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel is optimistic that the players will be at the Olympics.
Last week in New York, Fasel met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. Bach, who made his first appearance with the four gentleman and hasn’t been apart of the previous meetings. The fact that Bach was present at this meeting could be a significant development in this on going debate.
The Olympics have become apart of the NHL labor situation. The League recently asked if the union would eliminate its opt-out option in 2019 and extend the labor pact three years through the 2024-2025 season in exchange for participating in the 2018 Olympics. However, the union refused.
The I.O.C. has indicated that it did not want to cover the cost of travel and insurance to get hockey’s best to the Olympics. The committee spent roughly $14 million on those expenses for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. Despite the committee doing so since 1998, the owners were not pleased with this. Fasel recently said that he would get the $10 million for the costs where as Bettman remains unconvinced of this.
The biggest thing of all of is the owners’ reluctance to interrupt the NHL season for three weeks. Although they have done so for recent Olympics, the 14-hour time difference and the small market revenue in South Korea are concerns as well.
Discussions are expected to continue in the coming weeks. The I.O.C. is concerned that if it continues to cover the costs for the NHL players, other professional sports such as; basketball, golf, and tennis will start demanding similar compensation for their athletes in the Olympics.
Players want to participate in a sixth straight Olympics.Since NHL players started playing in the 1998 Nagano Games, the competition has drawn widespread acclaim for its skill level and intensity. Many NHL owners were already unhappy at sending away star players to risk an injury. For John Tavares, it was a bittersweet Olympics for him in 2014. Tavares tore his MCL and meniscus in his left knee where would remain out of the tournament, and it ended his season altogether. Islanders GM Garth Snow sounded off on the I.O.C and IIHF after he found out about the injury.
For a generation of players that grew up watching their idols play in the Olympics, reaching the Olympics has become a dream to rival the Stanley Cup. The NHL should send its players despite the issues at hand.If the issues aren’t resolved and the players don’t go to the 2018 Olympics, they may choose to go to the 2022 Olympics instead, which would likely be held in Beijing, a much better market for the NHL.
Fasel and Bach both want the NHL players to participate in the Olympics, there has been discussions of a “Plan B”. If the players don’t go, they would use lesser talent with the same rules, schedule and format. The idea of an Under-23 event has been rejected at the moment. There have been rumblings from some players that if an agreement isn’t reached, they will defy the League and play for their respected countries regardless.
It’s easy to forget that Bettman was a key reason why the players went to the Games in 1998. Ultimately, these decisions generally seem to come down to money. The question of who will pay the insurance and travel costs for NHL players is an issue once again. The three parties will have to come up with an agreement with one warning, time is running out.