On Wednesday, the National Hockey League met with Olympic and IIHF officials discussing the league’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Will the Carolina Hurricanes be represented in 2018?
Yesterday in New York, Gary Bettman and other NHL representatives met with Rene Fasel, the director of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regarding the NHL’s participation in future Olympics. Here is where the sides stand.
The Olympics and the IIHF would like to have NHL superstars at the Olympics. This makes plenty of sense. International hockey brings out great play and intense rivalry that isn’t always available. If the Olympics want to represent the best teams in the world, it’s only fitting the best players in the world populate those teams. Frankly, who doesn’t want to see Crosby v Ovechkin, or Kane v Toews, or the Sedins v Laine?
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The answer to that question is team owners and GMs, and thus Bettman and tow. See, the NHL has demanded compensation for their suspension of its season and potential injury to its players. For example, at the 2014 Games in Sochi, John Tavares got injured and hurt the Islanders down the stretch. In previous seasons, the IOC had covered those bills, but doesn’t want to anymore. The Olympics spent $14 million to cover the NHL’s players health, services, and transportation in 2014.
According to Fasel, the two parties are being civil, “No hitting, and no elbows.” However, this meeting still didn’t compromise much for either side. Gary Bettman said there are “still lots of issues”.
Likelihood It Happens
The NHL is in a bit of a hurry. They need to sort out these negotiations soon because they need to plan out the 2017-18 season. Abruptly throwing in a two week break in February is not practical. So time is of the essence to strike a deal. With he window closing, three key factors might move both parties inward.
First, the location. At first glance, Pyeongchang, South Korea doesn’t look like a great hockey destination. At least, not yet. The NHL has ambitions beyond just the US and Canada. It wants to grow the game in as many markets as possible, especially Asia. Both the 2018 and 2022 Olympics are in Asian countries (Beijing, China in 2022). So showcasing the best NHL quality up close and personal could really help the NHL make headway in the Far East.
Secondly, there is already a contingent of players who have already claimed they will play in 2018 no matter what. The unofficial spokesperson for that group is Washington captain Alex Ovechkin. This group, mostly of Russian players, are applying pressure on Bettman to strike a deal with the IOC.
Lastly, for the Olympic Committee, it would be a major boost to have the NHL participate. Their decision to stop covering all expenses was a signal to readjust their deal with Bettman. The Committee wants these players in 2018 to drive up attendances and viewership. Also, reports have suggested costs would decrease to $10 million simply due to less charter flights. Already the sides are coming together.
In short, the striking of deal is probably 50/50. On one hand, the league is adamant to keep its owners happy and spend as little money as possible doing so. On the other, these next two Olympics provide a perfect platform to pivot towards an Asian audience. At least now we know where the sides stand.
The Canes Perspective
At the moment, the Hurricanes are not brimming with a lot of Olympic level talent, so might not even be a big issue for them. Only two players on the active roster played in the World Cup of Hockey. Those two were Finns Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho. Assuming the Olympics allows NHL players, both look like solid inclusions into Team Finland.
The other obvious choice is Justin Faulk for the USA. He already is a veteran of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, where which he played in 2 games. He also has vast experience representing the States at several international levels, including the World Championships. The two time All-Star was snubbed by Team USA for the World Cup in favor of Jack Johnson. If the US doesn’t want a repeat of the disastrous outing this past September, Faulk will be in the lineup.
Some other guys on the bubble are Jeff Skinner and Victor Rask for Canada and Sweden respectively. Skinner is a long shot to say the least. Team Canada was deep in the World Cup and will be even better with the inclusion of some of the Canadian players from Team North America. The more likely is Rask. With some of Sweden’s stars getting older, like Henrik Zetterberg, there may be an opening for Rask.
The other possibility is Bill Peters. He has been a popular choice by Hockey Canada of late. He was the Head Coach of his nation at last years World Championships and an assistant at the World Cup. Both times he won gold. While head coach might be asking a lot, there is no reason why Peters couldn’t be an assistant on Team Canada.