It’s Canada’s version of the state of the union when Ron MacLean sits down with Gary Bettman, and Tuesday saw the return of the old standard.
With Team Canada and Team USA facing off at the World Cup of Hockey, it was fitting that the host of Hockey Night in Canada and the NHL commissioner contextualized the tournament in the larger conversation on how the world’s best will, in the future, compete internationally.
MacLean began by asking about Team North America, Team Europe, and how these concoctions might be considered “gimmicks” or “cash grabs” by observers.
“What [introducing these teams to the World Cup] did was it made this perhaps the most competitive international hockey tournament ever,” said Bettman. “Clearly, Team North America and Team Europe are better than the 7th and 8th countries would have been, and that’s one of the reasons this tournament is so great.”
North America shot out of the gate early, beating Europe twice by a combined score of 11-4 in pre-tournament action. But Team Europe has since redeemed itself, toppling the USA and Sweden while playing above expectations in the round-robin.
MacLean then asked about the NHL’s decision to play all round-robin games in Toronto. Past World Cup and Canada Cup competitions have been hosted by multiple cities and countries. Ice conditions were a consideration of some who thought the Air Canada’s ice quality would be compromised by the sheer number of games played on it.
“We don’t think that there are too many cities that pull off 16 or 17 games in a two week period, but we knew — when you’re in Toronto — you could do it, and maybe a couple of other cities,” said Bettman.
It can certainly be argued that the re-emergence of the World Cup as an event created by the NHL and NHLPA is in stark opposition to the NHL’s involvement in the winter Olympics, of which the league has been a part since 1998. MacLean asked for an update on where the NHL stands with regard to sending players to the games and interrupting the 2017-18 season.
“I think it’s been widely reported that the International Olympic Committee [IOC] has declined to — or at least saying they’ve declined to — pay for the things they paid for in the last five Olympics: things like transportation, insurance, hospitality, and accommodations for the players,” said Bettman. “In the final analysis, it’s expensive for us to go, it’s disruptive to our season — but we don’t even have to start thinking about it if the basic costs of going aren’t covered.
“This is not something that we make money on, this is not what this is about, but frankly, I don’t believe the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down in the middle of the season.”
During the Stanley Cup Final in June, Bettman described the added costs to NHL owners as “many, many, many millions of dollars.”
So, who will ultimately make this decision and who does Gary Bettman listen to when arriving at one, MacLean asked.
“The owners, ultimately, control the league,” said Bettman. “The owners are going to have to make a decision as to whether or not it’s in the best interests of the game, their franchises, and the fans to go. Obviously the players, and their desires [to play in the Olympics], are something that is going to have to be taken into account.
“I’m not saying anybody’s made up their mind, I’m pointing out what the issues are,” Bettman said.