By: Will Burchfield
After indicating last November that the NHL would make a decision by the end of January in regard to sending its players to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, league commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday, “We’re not on any timetable.”
“If somebody sets a date, it’s not going to be us,” Bettman told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
NHL participation in the 2018 Olympics has been called into question since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it would not cover the out-of-pocket expenses for the League to send its players to PyeongChang. Such expenses, which include travel, lodging and insurance, have been funded by the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for the past five Olympics.
“When the IOC and the IIHF said they weren’t going to pay the expenses a few months ago,” Bettman explained, “it opened a can of worms in terms of teams saying, ‘Why are we doing this? And why are we disrupting the season for two and a half weeks at a vital point where we just completely disappear? And we can’t even promote the fact that our players are there playing?’
“So, it’s something that’s obviously been focused on. There is a lot of concern and even some negative feelings about taking that break during the season and disrupting the season, in terms of both competitiveness and just the flow of our season.”
NHL players have participated in the Winter Olympics since the 1998 Games in Nagano. Barring a sudden change in the IOC’s stance, that streak is likely to come to an end in PyeongChang.
“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last month at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles.
It’s possible that the IIHF could help raise the estimated $10 million needed for NHL participation, and IIHF president Rene Fasel is believed to be working hard with IOC president Thomas Bach to resolve the issue.
“[Fasel] very much wants to try to find a solution,” Bettman said last year.
Even then, though, Bettman has his misgivings.
“The most likely thing is the International Ice Hockey Federation will come in and say we’re going to do it on a pared-down basis,” he said in November. “It may impact what is provided to the players and their families, but conceptually if you’re worried about hockey development worldwide at the grassroots level, why are they taking money away from that to fund NHL player participation at the Olympics?”
The one sign of hope for NHL participation in PyeongChang is that the League continues to push back its self-imposed deadlines, perhaps to allow the IOC and IIHF more time to make things work. Daly said last May the NHL would make a decision by the end of the year. Then Bettman extended that deadline to the end of January.
Now here we are in February, and the League has yet to rule one way or the other.
But time is running out. The NHL is in the process of assembling its schedule for the for 2017-18 season, and will need to know soon whether or not play will have to be suspended for the Olympics.
“Certainly the big factor of having a two-and-a-half week hold in the schedule or not is vital to putting the games in the right places,” Daly said in November.
On top of that, the IIHF and IOC need time to devise a contingency plan for the men’s hockey tournament should NHL players not participate for the first time since 1994.
Bettman and the NHL remain open to a solution, but it almost assuredly won’t be one that comes at the cost of the League. The commissioner feels the NHL is already sacrificing enough.
“Again, it’s not that the NHL or NHL teams are anti-Olympics, it’s just that it’s terribly disruptive to the season. And I think there’s been some fatigue because we haven’t seen much in the way of benefit and growth of the game,” he said.