A key meeting on the topic of whether NHL players will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea a year from now ended Friday without a decision.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach joined International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Director Don Fehr in New York for the first time to discuss the Pyeongchang Games.
“This was a courtesy visit and there was a very good open and friendly atmosphere,” Bach said. “Hopefully this has prepared the ground for successful negotiations between the NHL and international federation. Of course, we all want see the best players at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, and we know the players feel the same. Therefore, we hope even more that the international federation and the NHL will reach a solution to make the Olympic dreams of the players come true.”
Fasel said Bach was in New York for other meetings, setting up the visit without “hard negotiations,” or “major updates,” among the parties.
“I think it was very important to get us and the IOC and NHL/NHLPA together,” Fasel said. “This was a courtesy visit and I hope we can build on this and continue to work to a solution that will benefit the sport of ice hockey.”
The league is reluctant to shut down for two-plus weeks, though many of its players want to participate in what would be a sixth consecutive Olympics. The next Winter Games is in China in 2022.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last weekend that team owners were leaning against allowing their players to participate in the Olympics. The NHL does not enjoy its distinction of being the only professional sports league that pauses its season to allow its athletes to participate in the Olympics.
The IOC has indicated it does not want to cover the costs for travel and insurance expenses to get hockey’s best to the Olympics as it has done every four years since 1998. The governing body spent about $14 million to cover travel and insurance for NHL players for the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
More than 400 miles away, John Tavares was paying attention in the Motor City to the meeting .
“Getting them all in the same room is important,” the New York Islanders centre said before playing against the Detroit Red Wings. “And, hopefully there’s some positive discussions.”
Tavares, a union representative, said the topic seems to be a bargaining chip for the league and NHL Players’ Association in labour talks.
“It can be used as a sensitive issue,” he said. “You can make the argument on the negative impact it can make during the regular season, but then globally, the positive impact it can make. There’s a lot of talk about China and preseason games and the growth there when the Olympics go there. We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of moving parts.”
AP freelance writer Denis Gorman contributed to this report.
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Larry Lage, The Associated Press