Although the NHL’s involvement in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games is still up in the air, there is no mistaking the league is planning to have much more of a presence in Asia, specifically China, in the years ahead.
The first step may be a pre-season game in China, the biggest untapped hockey market in the world, and it could come as soon as next season.
“I think the hope is certainly we’d like to do it for next year, but I’m not in a position as I sit here right now that it’s definitely going to happen for next year and again part of what we’ll be doing when we’re over there is seeing whether it can happen as early as next year,” Bill Daly told Josh Cooper of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog. “That’s where I’ll leave it. We have a certain scenario in mind with respect to what can be done, we just have to make sure it can be done before we make any announcements.”
In the story, Cooper reports that Daly will travel to China later this month to find out details and lay the ground work for a game and how the league could organize and arrange it. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will not make the trip this time, but plans to visit the country of 1.3 billion people in the spring.
While the NHL seeks out its place in the Chinese market, the KHL expanded there for this season with the addition of Kunlun Red Star. When the Olympics hit South Korea in 2018, Daly expects the country to put a greater emphasis on developing winter sports.
“I think (the Winter Olympics) has created an emphasis on building winter sport in China and obviously we’re a primary winter sport,” Daly told Cooper. “I think there’s interest and appetite within kind of the governmental circles to make efforts at building hockey infrastructure and we want to be helpful, as the premier professional hockey league in the world, we want to be helpful in building that infrastructure.”
If the NHL doesn’t go to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the 2022 Games would likely be a target for them to attend, since they are being hosted by Beijing. If the NHL sits out the 2018 Olympics, it is not clear if the IOC would shy away from the league’s participation in 2022.
Time is running out to come to an agreement between the IOC, IIHF and NHL on the 2018 Games.
“I think what’s going to happen here is, Daly has said he’s heard the IOC has a January 15 deadline. ‘We don’t have that deadline’ is what he said last week. So I think they’re going to force the IOC to make a decision,” said Elliotte Friedman.
As we get closer to a drop dead date, whether it is January 15 or some time after, Friedman said on Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Friday that his optimism is fading.
“I’ve always believed in the end they’re going to go,” he said. “I will say that this is the one I’m most pessimistic for ever. I really think the NHL and the owners don’t want to go. I think it’s very legit when they say that. I think if they do end up going, and I still believe there’s a chance, it’s going to be because Bettman gets something he wants that’s going to drag them there.
“The one thing here, and this would concern me if I was the league and their players, the IOC is really playing hardball with them. Just forgetting the battle between the league and the players, the one thing that would concern me is, is this a sign the IOC doesn’t believe the NHLers are important enough at the Olympics? That would concern me if that was the case. Why would they feel that the NBA players are important, but these guys aren’t? I think there’s a lot of politics behind the scenes. And if I was the NHL and I believed the IOC didn’t feel we were important, I would be concerned about that, because that says to me they think they can do their games without us and I wouldn’t like someone to have that opinion of me.”