Hockey fans fearing another labour stoppage are right to have early cause for concern.
Donald Fehr suggested Wednesday that the National Hockey League’s decision to skip participation in the 2018 Winter Games could be front of mind when the players and owners sit down to negotiate the next collective bargaining agreement.
“If the notion is that everybody is just going to forget about this, I suspect that’s not the case,” Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director told The Jeff Blair Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
“If the notion is that players will just say, ‘Oh, well’… that’s a very, very, very unlikely possibility.”
In response to the NHL’s decision to pass on the Olympics after five tournaments, the PA issued a strongly worded statement in which it “adamantly disagree[d]” with the call.
Players by the droves expressed varying degrees of disappointment to reporters and on social media. Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin lead the charge, stating he will attended regardless.
A big question hangs, however. And it’s one for Fehr.
If chasing the Olympic dream is so important to NHLers, why was participation not included in the current CBA, signed in January of 2013, especially when an Olympic-participation clause existed in the previous CBA?
“No one envisioned that the owners would take this kind of view, which… is basically just short-sighted and clearly, as we see it, contrary to the best interests in the game,” Fehr told Blair.
“There was always a generalized understanding that we’d look at the situation and if we didn’t have costs, we’d figure out a way to do it.”
The PA honcho conceded that “in retrospect, perhaps” it was a mistake to not get an Olympic pact in writing.
Fehr said, at that time, the players’ focus was on other things and both sides had already established an understanding they would go to Sochi in 2014.
The players already gave concessions to owners in the last round of bartering, Fehr said, and evidently they weren’t big enough.
Prior to nixing a two-week trip to South Korea, commissioner Gary Bettman told the PA it would green-light participation if the players agreed to extend the current CBA by three years and eliminate a potential opt-out clause in the fall of 2019.
Had the players agreed, the CBA’s expiry would have been extended from 2022 to 2025.
The players shot that proposal down in early December.
Fehr said he’s hopeful that in “10 or 12 years” the World Cup of Hockey can match the Games as the globe’s premier best-on-best tournament.
“But it doesn’t yet,” Fehr said. “In terms of a global audience, you can’t do much better than the Olympics.
“You’ve got to find a way to take advantage of that.”
Fehr would not speculate on individual players’ situations should they choose to participate against the league’s wishes.
Asked if the door is still open ajar for 2018 participation, Fehr said, “You’ll have to ask Gary that.”
Bettman was asked that Tuesday evening on Prime Time Sports and stated the owners are “not looking to negotiate.”
Fehr said his next step to contact the players and make a judgment as to how to proceed.