PITTSBURGH – It’s over.
Dead, done, dusted.
Gary Bettman made it abundantly clear during his annual state of the league address on Monday that there is no way the NHL will reconsider its decision not to send players to the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
"I know that there have been a variety of comments either from Rene Fasel of the International Ice Hockey Federation or from representatives of the players’ association suggesting that this is still an open issue," said Bettman. "It is not and has not been. I hope that was definitive enough."
Prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, the commissioner officially awarded next season’s all-star game to Tampa and noted that the full 2017-18 schedule will be released in June.
Both are further signs that he means what he says about not being involved with an Olympic tournament that would required the league to shut its doors for a 17-day break.
He continually told representatives from the NHLPA and IIHF that owners weren’t interested in continuing to participate and nothing emerged over months of meetings to change their minds.
"We’re not anti-Olympics, we’re anti-disruption to the season," said Bettman. "And I don’t believe there’s any appetite to continue participation. Having said that, we said ‘listen, if there’s something you want to tell us that might change the equation, that might interest the teams, we’ll listen.’
"We weren’t negotiating. We never negotiate."
As Elliotte Friedman reported in November, the NHL did float the idea of extending the collective bargaining agreement as a way to ensure a "robust" international calendar and possibly sway owners to change their stance.
But the NHLPA didn’t go for it.
"What then ensued in that meeting wasn’t a demand, it wasn’t a proposal – it was a suggestion, it was talking points," said Bettman. "We said if we’re both going to give up our [CBA] re-openers and we extend by three years, we can accomplish two Olympics, two World Cups, two Ryder Cups, build the international business together the way we hope to and do a whole host of other initiatives, and under the framework of a robust international calendar and labour peace for nine years maybe I’ve got something that will persuade the teams to reconsider their view of the Olympics."
Here are some of the other topics Bettman addressed during his 40 minutes at the podium:
So, what about a player like Alex Ovechkin who has pledged to participate in the Olympics whether the NHL allows him to or not?
He even has the blessing of Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
Not so fast, according to the commissioner.
"We have an expectation that none of our players are going, but I don’t want to get into the gymnastics involved and what that means," said Bettman. "There’s no reason to pick that fight right now."
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly expanded on the topic with reporters afterwards.
"I think there’ll be a league-wide policy on Olympic participation," he said. "I think there’ll be a league-wide policy that will ensure that all of our players will be playing in the National Hockey League next year."
Why not leave it up to each individual team to decide if it will let players go?
"Because I think there are league interests involved," said Daly. "Very strong league interests involved. All of the other teams, in particular. That’s what a league is about – the competition of a regular-season schedule is important."
Daly added that it is "not determined yet" if players under NHL contract who are playing in the American Hockey League will be allowed to go.
The playoffs have featured several controversial goal calls, particularly those involving video review for goaltender interference, but the commissioner said "they are working exactly as they were intended to."
"With respect to goaltender interference, let’s start with the fact that it is a judgment call," Bettman added. "Everybody knows it’s a judgment call. If you’re on the wrong side of the outcome, you hate the rule, you don’t understand exactly what the standard is. All of those complaints.
"What was intended with the coach’s challenge was to address a glaring instance where the official didn’t see something that took place."
There is a possibility the decision will eventually be made by the hockey operations department in Toronto, rather than the referees, to ensure a more consistent standard. That will be discussed by the competition committee this summer, according to Daly.
The league might also force coaches to make a quicker decision on whether they want to challenge a goal for offsides or goaltender interference.
"We’re going to contemplate the possibility – and we have to work this out – of putting a clock on how much time there is once a goal is scored," said Bettman.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association are scheduled to meet this week to discuss the 2017-18 salary cap, according to Daly.
At issue is whether the players decided to enact the five per cent growth option or not. Depending on what they decide, it puts the projected range for next year’s cap somewhere between its current level of $73 million and $77 million.
"You’re looking at a flat or slightly up cap with no inflator and then you can run it out to $77 and change if you apply the five per cent inflator," said Daly.
After the NHL entertained expansion bids a year ago, it announced that Quebec City’s attempt to get a team had been deferred.
That remains the case today.
It sounds like they’ll need some sort of realignment or a franchise relocation before the Nordiques can be brought back.
"With 16 teams in the East and starting next year 15 teams in the West, I think we have to address that imbalance before we can give more consideration to the Quebec City application," said Daly. "I would not expect a situation where we’re prepared to go East and create a further imbalance before we address that.
Despite finishing second overall in the NHL standings this season, the Pittsburgh Penguins had to go through Columbus (No. 4) and Washington (No. 1) just to get to the conference final.
That prompted some complaints about the divisional playoff format – most notably from Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
"I don’t think it was designed for this," Kekalainen told the AP. "I don’t think it was intended for this to happen."
There aren’t expected to be any discussions about changing it up, however.
"Obviously this was a unique year with a lot of strong teams in one division," said Daly. "That doesn’t happen every year and I think to pick kind of one unique year and to scrap a whole system based on that is probably a little bit short-sighted. Let’s see what the future brings."
The NHL still intends to reach a point where player tracking is used in every game – just as it was during the World Cup prior to this season.
"Part of it is scaling it in a way that you can bring it to 31 arenas and make it work in the same way it worked in Toronto over a two-week tournament," said Daly. "It’s going to happen. I just can’t tell you when it’s going to happen."