Olympic participation no major sacrifice for NHL, IIHF president says
Ten days every four years.
The Swiss president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, Rene Fasel, doesn't think that's too much to ask of National Hockey League owners, who seem set against sending their players to the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Sharing a head table with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at Canada Hockey Place on Thursday, Fasel said that a league that plays roughly 5,000 game over the course of an Olympic quadrennial can surely re-schedule a few of them to ensure that the world's best players participate in the Games.
“You have no all-star game in the Olympic year, so the time is not so long,” Fasel said.
Bettman, though, sounded a cautionary note.
“When you look at the Games from 30,000 feet, it's all good, when you focus on us being here as part of the Olynpic experience, it's all good,” he said, “but you do have to take a step back at ground level and look at the impact it has on our season, and what we can do about it.”
Playing in Vancouver, he said, was ”almost a no-brainer” given the North American audience it will attract, and the time zone in which the games are played. In Sochi, however, games would air here in the afternoon or even morning, and with added travel time to and from Russia, the upside to the NHL of shutting down its regular season for two weeks or more might be minimal.
However, Olympic participation – which the players favour – is likely to be a chip on the table in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, following the 2011 season, and perhaps the owners' apparent resistance is simply an early salvo in the next CBA contest.
“The Games could play without NHL players – hockey is hockey – but for the fans, we need you here, Gary,” said Fasel, who called the Olympics “the pinnacle of our sport.”
He chided Bettman for his preoccupation with the business side of all decisions, and said that was one of the difficulties of working out a truce between the NHL and the Russian federation and its Kontinental Hockey League over player transfers.
“We have to find another way,” said Fasel. “My job here is to bring the Russian federation and NHL together, and I promise I will. But you have such different cultures, and Gary is so much American, and the Russians are so much Russian and ….”
“And you are so much Switzerland,” cracked Bettman.
Bettman trumpted the overwhelming influence of the world's best hockey league on this Olympic tournament.
“We're playing in an NHL building, using NHL ice, basically NHL rules, the NHL officiating standard with a couple of minor modifications, and in the games that matter, we're using NHL officials, and the NHL's four-man officiating system,” he said. “And most importantly there are more than 140 NHL players here.”
Bettman would not go into details of factors weighing for or against NHL participation in Sochi, but said that he doesn't think either the IOC or IIHF would be comfortable with the NHL “cherry-picking” Olympics based on time zones and convenience.
“We're not negotiating now,” he said. “There isn't a drop-dead date. There will come a time , and it will be obvious, when we have to make a decision – although we went to Torino at the last minute, coming out of the work stoppage. But there's plenty of time.”
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