What we learned about NHL participation in the 2018 Olympics

IIHF president Rene Fasel met with NHLPA about 2018 Olympic participation, and says they haven't made huge progress, but is still confident a solution will be reached.

What did we learn today?

We learned there is a path to the Olympics. Now, we begin the negotiation.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly are on-record as saying they do study after study indicating going to the Games is no financial victory. They don’t like dealing with the IOC, feeling that organization doesn’t recognize how difficult it is to shut down play during the season. No matter how much you and I love seeing best-on-best — and I think having the NHL attached the the Olympics is a win, no matter how much cash comes in — the league disagrees.

With that as the backdrop, we find out the NHL made an offer to the players: extend the current CBA, and we’ll go. (I’ve heard the request is three years, but that’s not confirmed. The devil may be in the details, too.)

Suddenly, it all makes sense.

Look, the league doesn’t want to go. As injuries mount and threaten to ruin several teams’ seasons, owners don’t want to go, either. The World Cup and compressed schedule make a tough league even tougher. We’re looking at the same thing in 2017-18.

This is what Bettman is saying: I need something tangible. The owners need something tangible. An extension of the CBA certainly qualifies. It’s a good deal for them.

This move is not unprecedented. Prior to the NHL’s first foray into the Olympics (Nagano, 1998) both sides agreed to waive the right to re-open their CBA to ensure there would be no labour disruption at that time. The league and NHLPA also agreed to an early extension when expansion loomed to Atlanta, Columbus, Minnesota and Nashville. Obviously, the NHL did not want a shutdown while that was happening.

What will the players think of this offer? We all know they love the Olympics, but I’d be surprised if they took this particular deal. If they accept, they will lock-in for a longer period of high escrow, their biggest issue with the current CBA. They gain labour peace and the right to go to the Olympics. Now: do they believe NHL participation in the Games will happen anyway? If they think yes, they are giving up something for nothing. If they think the NHL is serious about saying no, then they have something to gain. That’s the poker game they are playing.

There is another wild-card. Alex Ovechkin says he’s going anyway. How many of his brethren are with him? Can the NHL stop this exodus, assuming it wanted to? Donald Fehr wouldn’t comment about this possibility when asked by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston in New York City.

All of this also explains why IIHF President Rene Fasel’s efforts to find alternative funding methods are being met with such resistance. He’s worked hard to find the $10-14 million he must replace without IOC aid, but we’re not any closer to a deal.

Is he disappointed?

“Not I’m not disappointed, that’s not true,” he said by phone Wednesday afternoon. “Nobody said it will be easy.”

“I know what I have to do on my side. We’re going to have a meeting with the national federations at the beginning of December. I’m going to back to South Korea, to the IOC, to the (National Olympic Committees), confirm the support they are going to give us on the money side. Gary needs to go back to the owners, Don needs to go back to the players.”

“But I prefer to be under pressure than to have lots of time to go.

Fasel said the other day he’s “50/50” on NHLers going. Where is he after this meeting?

“I’m still 50/50,” he replied. “I never give up.”

The current CBA expires Sept. 15, 2022. Both the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt out in 2020. If the league wants to go that route, it must notify the union by Sept. 1, 2019. Should it say, “Thanks but no thanks,” the players have the option. It must notify the NHL by Sept. 19, 2019. Should neither side want this, we go the full term.

Deadlines spur action. Now we’re learning everyone’s true positions. There’s a deal to be made. Will we get there?

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