Fans with aspirations of seeing best-on-best hockey at the 2018 Olympics shouldn’t be holding their breath, but there may still be some hope for NHL participation. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said he hasn’t yet thrown in the towel when it comes to the NHL sending players to the Olympics in Pyeongchang.
In an interview with German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Fasel said that the IIHF, NHL and International Olympic Committee could realistically have until mid-July to come to an agreement, adding there was work to be done to “convince (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) that the pros in Pyeongchang can be there.”
Fasel’s comments come despite the fact it was little more than one month ago, April 3, that the NHL released a statement regarding the Olympics, making clear that participation was not in the cards. In the statement, the league said “no meaningful dialogue has materialized” between any of the parties involved in making the Olympic decision, at least not enough to change the minds of the league’s Board of Governors, and that due to the lack of progress made the league was considering the matter “officially closed.” So, as Fasel said, it does appear that the league does need to be convinced — and more specifically, it would seem, it’s the Board of Governors who need to be persuaded.
That might be much easier said that done, however. In a recent interview with the Boston Herald, Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins and chairman of the Board of Governors, made it quite clear that the league is having a hard time seeing any positives to going to Pyeongchang.
“When you stop and think about should we take those weeks out of our season,” Jacobs said. “Turn it off, continue to depend on these players to perform for us when they get back, if they get back, and come back in good condition…Also, Korea doesn’t really help the situation at all. The time zones are so totally different. If you want to watch here at 2 or 3 in the morning, OK. But I think the four people that watch it don’t justify it.”
And shutting down the season is a pain for the league’s owners, especially as the break comes right as the second half of the season is picking up. However, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos made an interesting note this past weekend regarding one of the regularly scheduled NHL breaks: the All-Star Game. Kypreos pointed out that some players have questioned why there has yet to be an announcement regarding the annual all-star showcase if the Olympics are off the table. That said, the lack of announced All-Star Game date and locale could simply be the result of the NHL’s initial Olympic decision coming so late in the calendar.
It hasn’t just been an issue of shutting down the season, though. Throughout the entire process, one of the biggest hurdles has been the financials associated with sending NHL players to the Games, with the sticking point being travel and insurance costs. For the previous Olympics that have had NHL participation, dating all the way back to 1998 in Nagano, the costs have been covered by the IOC. It was decided that would no longer be the case if the NHL chose to participate in 2018.
Because of the IOC’s unwillingness to put up the money, there was belief that NHL participation would be nixed much earlier in the discussions. However, that was only until Fasel and the IIHF stepped up with the money, pledging to cover the costs for NHL participation if the league agreed to send its players. That decision was openly questioned by Bettman, though, who said it could take money away from hockey at the grassroots level in emerging markets.
As for the players who want to play regardless, Fasel addressed that, as well, when speaking with Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger. Several players have spoken out declaring their interest in playing in 2018, but no one has been as up front about his desire to participate as Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. When asked about the ‘Great 8,’ Fasel said that he doesn’t see any reason Ovechkin shouldn’t be able to suit up.
"If Ovechkin wants to play at the Olympics and is registered by his National Olympic Committee, he has the right to be in Pyeongchang," Fasel said, according to Inside The Games. "No problem. He must simply have a passport and be reported. There are a few legal hurdles, but we are clarifying this. Certain parameters must be fulfilled, such as anti-doping.”
As for the extended timeline to come to a final decision, Fasel said it has to do with nothing more than space in Gangneung, where the Olympic park will be located. At past events, the league, including players, staff and other officials, has accounted for anywhere from 400 to 800 people. If the NHL were to participate in Pyeongchang, that figure would likely be the same, and there can only be accommodations made available if the deal is done by mid-July, at the very latest.
And with some time remaining to possibly get a deal done, Fasel isn’t about to give up.
"I am ready to swim across the Atlantic if it needs to be," Fasel said, according to Inside The Games. “But there is a limit I cannot cross. And if the NHL decides not to come, then so be it."
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.