PITTSBURGH — Gary Bettman shovelled a little more dirt on NHLers playing at the 2018 Olympics.
Speaking before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final in his annual state of the union address, the NHL commissioner said nothing had changed with regard to the Pyeongchang Games since a firm announcement last month that the league would not attend.
Bettman denied apparent suggestions from the International Ice Hockey Federation and NHL Players’ Association that it was still an "open issue."
"It is not and has not been," said Bettman. "I hope that was definitive enough."
In stamping home that point, Bettman confirmed Tampa as the site of the 2018 all-star game and said a schedule for the 2017-18 season would be announced in late June.
IIHF president Rene Fasel said last month that there was "still some space" to convince Bettman. Fasel believed the NHL needed to be in Pyeongchang, South Korea, to grow their brand internationally.
Bettman repeated familiar arguments against the NHL attending, however, including the season disruption required of the Games.
"We’re not anti-Olympics, we’re anti-disruption to the season," Bettman said.
NHL players have attended every Winter Olympics since 1998 and one, Alex Ovechkin, said he would go in 2018 regardless of the league’s stance. Bettman declined to say how the league would handle such a circumstance, but said was there was an "expectation that none of our players are going."
During a recent trip to China, Bettman said Chinese officials hadn’t asked whether the league would attend the 2022 Olympics. They were more concerned, he suggested, with developing winter sports.
Speaking for just under an hour to a room of about 100 people with players from the Nashville Predators warming up next door, Bettman added that the coach’s challenge was working as intended — both with regard to offside and goaltender interference. He also lauded the close nature of the NHL post-season and "competitive balance" which had delivered the Predators to their first Stanley Cup final.
Bettman confirmed an earlier report of an outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals next March and thought Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford was engaging in gamesmanship when he complained about the treatment of captain Sidney Crosby.
"Maybe he’s trying to tweak the officials a little bit," Bettman said.
Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly hinted at the salary cap likely remaining flat at US$73 million (or slightly up) next season.