30 Thoughts: Will the NHL walk away from 2018 Olympics?

NHL on Sportsnet play-by-play voice Paul Romanuk doesn't see much downside for the NHLers to play at the Olympics, even if they don't get paid to do so.

As the various Olympic hockey stakeholders meet Wednesday in New York, all eyes will be on International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel.

With the International Olympic Committee taking a hard line against covering costs for NHL players in 2018, Fasel says he’s come up with a plan.

“I spoke with the Russian National Olympic Committee, and they said, ‘Rene, if we need to pay the insurance costs and the travel costs for our Russian players, we will do so,’” he told reporters Monday in Montreal. “So, I am having the discussion with the Canadian Olympic Committee, the US Olympic Committee, the Czechs and the Swedes. It’s wrong that only one should pay. Everyone should pay. At the end I think we can balance the numbers and the figures, so I’m very pleased it’s not any more of a financial issue.”

Fasel says sending NHLers to Sochi in 2014 cost around $25 million.

“(The IIHF) spent over $10-$12 million, the IOC spent $14 million. This time, (the IOC’s portion) is coming back to $10 million.” If the individual federations decide not to ante up, Fasel indicated his organization will do it. Whatever the case, he’s selling the notion he’s got this solved.

You’d think that would be the end of the debate, right? No costs to the NHL, book your flight to South Korea? Not so fast.

There’s an awkward, tortured dance before every Olympic cycle. There are worries the NHL won’t go. But, I’ve always believed it will work out. The players love going, and even though owners and executives do not feel there is any financial value in attending, I see much to gain by attaching yourself to Olympic viewership.

That said, even optimists see these storm clouds as darker than normal.

A major reason is that the NHL is not short of people who think the IOC — not the IIHF — should pay. It makes money off the professionals’ participation. A league that shuts down its season to accommodate the Olympics has never felt properly compensated or properly respected for doing so. There is a legit distaste for giving away the product “for free” to the IOC.

This is just me talking, but I get the sense the league would be happy to miss one Games if it benefitted in the long term. Is it worth the gamble to sit out South Korea if it meant an improved deal to go to China in 2022?

The NHL is working on increasing its footprint in that country and if the Chinese government was motivated to have the best players there (like Russia’s was), you’re in business. You always run the risk of being told “once you’re out, you’re out.” But I feel the league is ready to test that. As injuries mount due to the World Cup and compressed season, I think there are clubs ready to support that (cough, Dallas, cough).

The players will push back. Not only do they love going, but Executive Director Don Fehr is a huge proponent of international play. But the true difference-maker is NBC, the biggest of the Olympic partners. “Things really started moving last time when they got involved,” one source said.

We’ve been told no final decision will come from Wednesday’s get-together. (The Board of Governors’ meeting in December likely tells us more.) One of the keys to winning a negotiation is a willingness to walk away. Every indication is the NHL wants to test that theory.


1. Hockey Canada, for one, is beginning to make alternative plans. President and CEO Tom Renney declined to comment, but at the just-concluded Deutschland Cup, they got a look at some guys overseas who could be Olympians in the NHL’s absence. “The plan was, would you be interested in putting together teams, keeping in mind if there are (no NHLers) at the Olympics, we can evaluate those players,” said Sean Burke, who served as Canada’s GM. “You’re going to try and win for sure, but the bigger idea is to get a sense of who we have and who could be a player.” Canada, which included Derek Roy (738 NHL games) and Max Talbot (704), beat Switzerland 3-0 and Germany 3-1, but finished second due to a 4-3 shootout loss to Slovakia. This group was filled by players from the KHL, Finnish, German and Swedish leagues. At the Spengler Cup, the roster will be dominated by Swiss leaguers.

2. At the GM meetings, the group was as divided as you would expect on blindside hits. No consensus at all. One thing they did agree on: they didn’t like Vincent Trocheck’s shootout goal from Oct. 18. New Jersey GM Ray Shero used to live around the corner from Trocheck in Pittsburgh, but “I don’t think that was a goal at all. To me, he actually took a swing at the puck and missed it…When you’re playing golf and you take a swing and miss, they count it as a stroke, so that really should have been a shot.” Shero reminded that, in 2010, New York and Philadelphia went into a shootout on the last day to determine who made the playoffs. Could you imagine that one ending someone’s season? Carnage.

3. What that means for now is if anything similar occurs, the mandate from the managers is not to count it. So keep an eye out for that. At the next meetings in March, they will discuss whether or not Rule 24.2, which governs this, should be changed. It currently reads, “The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line and once it is shot, the play shall be considered complete.” The “goal line” extends from board to board. What could happen is the goal line — as it pertains to shootouts — might only apply between the goal posts. That way, Trocheck’s goal would not count.

4. Another discussion that didn’t go very far: whether or not a backup goalie should get a warmup if the concussion spotters order the removal of the starter. “Coaches are going to take advantage of that,” one GM said. “They’ll use it as an extra timeout.” They’ll wait to see how often this happens between now and March.

5. When Evander Kane returned to the lineup last week against Ottawa, attendance was high in the scouting section. Sometimes that happens when there’s a light schedule — there were only three games that night, so turnout is higher than normal. But there’s little doubt Kane will be watched closely, because the Sabres are willing to move him. So far, there hasn’t been an offer worth getting excited about, so unless Buffalo wants to do this for pennies on the dollar, it’s a waiting game.

6. Vancouver’s interest is well-known, but, again, I don’t think the Canucks have offered much. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo has reported the Wild’s interest. The two GMs — Chuck Fletcher and Tim Murray — are tight. I’m not comfortable being on a different side than the incredibly plugged-in Russo, but I’m getting denials on that one. I do think Minnesota is looking to add a forward, though.

7. Speaking of forwards, very curious to see where things go with Columbus and Brandon Saad. He’s fifth on the Blue Jackets in scoring, fifth in time-on-ice among forwards. But he was almost a healthy scratch last week and, somewhere, the team wants to ease its cap crunch. Chicago investigated it last season, but couldn’t make things work. He’s 24 years old and has a lot to give.

8. I think the Islanders looked for forward help, but couldn’t find a move that made sense. Can’t imagine they’d want to deal many of their talented young prospects.

9. With a couple of weeks to breathe, I’m also uncertain of how serious they are about trading Jaroslav Halak. New York’s played eight times since agent Allan Walsh criticized the three-goalie system and GM Garth Snow responded by putting his goalie on the block. Halak’s started six of them and played in seven. When you’re trying to stay afloat, it seems unlikely you’d move the guy you’re using — at this time.

10. Ottawa’s made it known Andrew Hammond is available. He’s struggled in limited action this year and is behind newly-acquired Mike Condon on the totem pole. What Hammond does have going for him is he’s under contract for next season, which means he can be exposed in the expansion draft. That’s not without value and you never know what someone can do with a fresh start. No one’s commenting, but it sounds like the Senators would like him to go to AHL Binghamton on a conditioning stint, and he’s resisted the idea. Nothing wrong (to me) with going to keep yourself sharp.

11. One GM, who says he “may” look at a goalie: “I’m not doing anything until I know what Pittsburgh’s going to do with Marc-Andre Fleury.”

12. Think Calgary is looking to add a defenceman, preferably someone with a bit of an edge. Until Tuesday night in Minnesota, teams were just walking through them. But it’s hard to find a top-four guy now.

13. That brings us to Dougie Hamilton. Nick Kypreos mentioned the rumours last weekend. Hamilton’s name has been in and out of NHL whispering circles since the draft, but Calgary GM Brad Treliving has always denied them. What no one can dispute is Hamilton’s minutes per game: 17:07 as a rookie, then 19:06, a career-high 21:20 in his third year, 19:46 and 18:26 so far in season five — fifth among Flames blueliners. He’s been above 20 minutes once since Oct. 20. His last three games saw him play 16:24, 14:39 and 15:56. If you trade him now, you might be selling low, but I think there are teams who believe they can make a better player out of him yet. He’s 23. Wonder if Detroit, having struck out so far on Cam Fowler and Jacob Trouba, would have interest.

14. The more I think about it, the more I think the worst thing that happened to the Flames was making the playoffs and beating Vancouver in 2014-15. Created unrealistic expectations. All of a sudden, the top of your organization believes you’re one of the eight best teams in the NHL. Everyone’s looking at Vancouver and the Islanders, but the heat is on here, too. Sometimes, the best answer is to let it breathe.

15. Arizona has told teams that pending unrestricted free agent Martin Hanzal will not be dealt unless the Coyotes receive a young player who can step in now. The preference is a centre. It sounds like there’s quite a bit of interest. Could see San Jose and St. Louis being among them. Fits what both need and both do.

16. Saw the Coyotes last week and even they laughed at how young they are — especially with Hanzal and Mike Smith injured. That night, Luke Schenn, who is 27, was the sixth-oldest skater on the roster against Colorado. The players joked that Shane Doan has children older than they are and need “McLovin” IDs to buy alcohol. In talking to coach Dave Tippett, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want them to accept losing, even with the excuse of youth. Two days before beating the Avalanche, there was a tough battle-drill practice. Sounds like Max Domi and Oliver Ekman-Larsson got caught up in it and went at each other hard. Don’t think the coaches minded seeing that, either.

17. Watching what’s happening with Jake Virtanen and the Vancouver Canucks brings up a personal pet peeve: that being sent to the AHL is a bad thing, a punishment. To steal a line from Dennis Miller, I don’t want to go off on a rant here, but it is not a negative for a 20-year-old, second-year pro to go to the American League. Somehow people have it in their heads that this is a failure for a young player. It’s not. Not even close. Not everyone is ready right away, not everyone can dominate so quickly. There is a long, long list of players who benefitted from being there. I don’t get this line of thinking and never will.

18. “I knew what I was getting into when I took the job,” Trevor Linden said last weekend, “and I’m not going to run away from it.” That was his response when asked about rumours he was considering stepping away from his job as President of Hockey Operations and Alternate Governor of the Canucks. “I knew two-and-a-half years ago there would be challenges. I realized where we were as an organization and the changes that were coming. I understand the scrutiny and criticism that comes with the territory.”

19. Hard night on Tuesday for Philadelphia’s Steve Mason. Almost 59 terrific minutes before a rough game-tying goal as Ottawa beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shootout. Flyers GM Ron Hextall hasn’t entered into negotiations with either Mason or the injured Michal Neuvirth, both of whom are unrestricted free agents next summer. Some guys are built to bet on themselves, to handle the uncertainty, but people who’ve played/worked with them in the past say it will be harder for these two. Look at Mason’s contract history. His second deal was signed a year before it took effect. Traded to Philly on April 3, 2013 as a pending restricted free agent, he signed a one-year contract five days later. Eligible for something new on Jan. 1, 2014, he inked his current three-year extension 17 days after that date. Clearly, there was a plan when the Flyers got him. There’s much less of a plan for him this time around and it’s a challenge for him.

20. Goaltending challenges are not easy for head coaches. But the Flyer players are complimentary of Dave Hakstol. “Never gets rattled. Always calm,” said one player, motioning his hand palm-down along a straight line to illustrate the coach’s even keel. “That’s important with this team,” another said. “We’ve got some pretty emotional guys.” Win or lose, that’s an entertaining team to watch.

21. Didn’t realize that Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov are road roommates. Who gets the remote? “Ah, it’s really not an issue,” Provorov laughed last week. “But I do get the bed closest to the door.” Since he played in the Western Hockey League, I’d never had much of a chance to talk to the rookie defenceman, but he’s very good at discussing the intricacies of the game. He was explaining what it was like to face Sidney Crosby. “He was coming in on me, and I wasn’t on my regular side. I was thinking, ‘Don’t go for the first move, don’t go for the first move.’ He brought the puck across his body and I waited, then was able to poke it away from him.” He was very proud of that play, but knows there are many rematches to come.

22. Ever since Drew Doughty openly admitted in 2014 it bothered him that he hadn’t won a Norris Trophy, it’s something I like to ask players. How much do you care about awards? On Tuesday, it was Roman Josi’s turn. Does he care about winning the Norris? “Anyone who tells you they don’t want to win is lying,” he replied. Do you check the voting? “Yes,” he admitted with a laugh. Josi has developed into a legitimate contender. Teammates say one of his best qualities is the ability to turn it on when things go badly. “If he gets a minus early in a game, look out,” one Predator said.

23. The NHL and NHLPA finalized the list of players who cannot be exposed to Las Vegas, unless they agree to drop their protection. As expected, anyone with a full no-move clause (or a no-move with a limited no-trade) cannot be left unprotected. The deadline for waiving these clauses is in June, before each club must submit its list of protected players. Owner Bill Foley has informed the NHL he intends to complete payment by March 1, instead of April 1. That means his club will get a chance to compete against other teams for NCAA or CHL free agents.

24. Recognizing most of our audience, an executive who scouted the Karjala Cup in Finland a couple of weeks ago reached out to say he liked two Russians there who were drafted by Canadian teams. They were Toronto’s Yegor Korshkov (31st, 2016) and Winnipeg’s Pavel Kraskovsky (164th, 2014). Both are 20 years old. They didn’t score much at the event, but played games he thought could translate to North America.

25. Sean Burke had a great laugh about playing against one of the newest Hall of Famers, Sergei Makarov. “I went to go see Red Army,” referring to the 2014 documentary about the Soviet National Team. “I said to myself, ‘That’s me they’re scoring on.’ I remembered the goals. He undressed me at the 1988 Olympics.”

26. Other quick stories on those inducted to the Hall of Fame: During the 1992-93 season, Kelly Hrudey’s first game against Eric Lindros was in April. Hrudey made a save, and as he covered the puck, a scrum ensued. Hrudey looked up, saw Lindros, and made eye contact. “Then I looked down, so no one could see our conversation,” he said last weekend. “I told him, ‘Thank you for what you did, you drove up salaries for all of us.’” Lindros replied, “No problem,” and skated away.

27. Almost 15 years later, I finally had the opportunity to ask Kalli Quinn, Pat’s daughter, how she became part of the on-ice Team Canada photo following the 2002 Olympic Gold Medal victory. She’s the only family member in that picture. “A few months before the Games, Bob Nicholson called and asked if I wanted to work as the liaison between Team Canada and the players’ families. After I accepted, my dad called and said, ‘Don’t screw this up. I need our players focusing on the games.’ When we won, I was celebrating on the bench with my mom and my sister, when dad grabbed me for the photo. I said I shouldn’t go, but he told me, ‘Your job was just as important as anyone else’s.’ There’s another picture where everyone can be seen on the bench, and that’s the one we talk about. But whenever I hear the anthem, I think of that moment.”

28. Did Hall-of-Fame coach Punch Imlach ever apologize to Rogie Vachon for calling him a “Junior B goalie” prior to the 1967 Stanley Cup Final? “No,” Vachon answered. “And it was not necessary. It never bothered me. Now, everyone has to be so careful with what they say.” John Shannon brought up that Vachon was interim coach when the Kings stopped Wayne Gretzky’s absurd 51-game points streak in January, 1984. “(Gretzky) could have had 15 points that night,” Vachon deadpanned.

29. Last Sunday, Chicago Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough received an honourary Certified Hockey Professional designation from the Business of Hockey Institute — which operates in conjunction with Athabasca University. McDonough gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. There was some great advice in there: “Be interested, and be interesting,” telling the hundred or so post-secondary students in attendance to make sure they ask as many questions in a conversation as they answer. “You know who is the most curious person I know? Scotty Bowman. He’s already on his fifth question to me before I’m finished my second to him.” McDonough added that one of the most underrated and important skills for any good leader is the ability to hire good people and let them do their jobs.

30. A couple of interesting facts about McDonough: not long after the Blackhawks ended their 50-year Stanley Cup drought in 2010, he told his staff, “The party’s over,” letting them know more was expected. After they won again in 2013, it was, “Winning one in Chicago would be the ultimate Stanley Cup.” The first two were lifted in Philadelphia and Boston, but the organization fulfilled the hometown dream in 2015. What did he say then? Not sure, because they haven’t won another — yet.

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