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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Olympics? Don’t hold your breath

If you had dreams of NHL players going to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Gary Bettman likely just tinkled in your Corn Flakes.

The NHL’s Commissioner spoke at the Sport Business Summit in New York today and told reporters that “people should assume we are not going (to the Olympics).”

The news sent shockwaves through social media as many Canadian hockey fans were hoping for a three-peat on the men’s side, a goal that seems unlikely to happen if you take Bettman at his word.

According to Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner since February of 1993, the league last met with the IOC to discuss an Olympic future back in February but, apparently, no progress was made and no future meetings are scheduled. According to ol’ Gary:

“There are no negotiations ongoing. We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.”

The NHL’s beef seems to stem with shutting the league down for two weeks so close to the playoffs, a concern that is amplified by the potential for injuries to some of the league’s best players. From a league perspective, having guys like John Tavares go down for the remainder of the season as a result of an Olympic injury is a problem but, to play devil’s advocate, we’ve also seen guys go down from eating pancakes. Injuries happen and unless we wrap the world in bubble wrap (let’s get some costing on this idea) then there’s not much we can do about them – Olympics or not.

What else did Bettman say?

“The point is I was trying to emphasize the fact that this is terribly disruptive to our business and there seems to be no offsetting way to mitigate that disruption”

Basically what that tells me is that the bigger issue is the fact that the NHL misses out on the cash generated by their athletes that play in the games. Are they worried about players getting hurt? Totally. Are they way more worried about missing out on some mad scratch? Hell yeah, they are.

It was widely reported that the NHL is seeking a ‘Top Sponsor’ status that would allow the league to market (read: cash in on) the games themselves. When you combine missing out on that kind of cake alongside paying for the insurance and transportation for the players to attend the event then you’ve got a recipe for an unhappy ownership group, a group represented by Bettman.

“When the IOC comes to us and says, by the way, we know it will cost $15 to $20 million to send your players between insurance, charter costs and accommodations for the players. Well… we’re not going to pay for that. If they don’t value our participation (then) why are we going?”

For hockey fans everywhere, this news came down like a heel kick to the nuts. Having NHLers participate at the Olympics created some of the most memorable and uniting hockey moments that any of us have ever experienced. If the NHL has their way, those memories could be all that we have to hang on to. Unless, of course, you’re going to be into watching an Olympic version of the Spengler Cup.

  • beloch

    It’s pretty typical for Bettman to try to use the media to gain an edge in negotiations, not unlike his public prodding of Nenshi for arena cash. He should probably have figured out by now that people hate him too much for this to work. The players want to go to the Olympics. The public wants them to go. It’s all but inevitable. All that isn’t settled is how much money the league will make out of it.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the NHL had a commissioner with the class to do his money-grubbing behind closed doors?

  • Burning Ring of Fire

    It would be great to see NHL players go to the Olympics but the time change would really suck for players when they come back and are supposed to be ramping up for the post season. It could really hurt teams with multiple players going.

    Bettman’s such a wanker… (like I need to state the obvious)

  • Sobueno

    I get the concern from owners about lost revenue and potential injury to their stars, but if Bettman were taking the long view I’d have thought he’d be all for the Olympics. What better way to grow the fan base than showcasing the best players in the world on an international stage? It’s like an All-Star Game that everyone actually cares about. Even from his selfish money-centric view more fans = more $$.

    Probably my favourite team to watch at the recent World Cup was North America. I suppose sans NHL the Olympic team might kind of look like that. Not as great as seeing the best showcase their skill, but still watchable I suppose.

  • Keith M

    Oddly I’m with the owners, my extreme dislike of the Olympic committee has me hoping the NHL forces them into coughing up money. The Olympic committee are the ultimate money grubbers, easily ten time worst than Bettman.

  • X Man

    There are still 82 games per team, per season… Yes there are risks and disruptions, but the owners should potentially be able to make pretty much the same amount of money per game, per season… That’s a weak argument, even from that lizard Bettman… Besides, there’s more to life, and hockey, than money…

  • Avalain

    Ok, personally I believe that insurance on the players should be paid for by the players, assuming that they want to go. Travel and accommodation should be done the same as the rest of team Canada, which means that the hockey team stays in the Olympic village and… I’m honestly not sure how travel is paid for right now. If these super stars need first class, then they can upgrade themselves.

    In other words, I don’t believe that the NHL should have to pay anything to send their players. They have to risk the health of the players and they get free advertising. That’s where it should end. I mean, if the NHL doesn’t go then who has to pay for the team to be sent over? Wherever it comes from for amateurs should be where it comes from for pros.