The 2018 Olympics may feel far off, but there’s less than a year and a half between the start of the 2016-17 NHL season and the beginning of competition in Pyeongchang. However, it doesn’t appear the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC are feeling any pressure to decide whether NHL players will participate at the tournament come 2018.
According to commissioner Gary Bettman, the league hasn’t come to a conclusion on Olympic participation for its players and fans shouldn’t be expecting a decision soon. Bettman was asked about the Olympics following the press conference to unveil the 2017 Winter Classic in St. Louis, and according to the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc, Bettman didn’t foresee a decision being made before the start of the upcoming season.
“We probably won’t get to it in terms of serious discussions one way or another with players’ association and the IIHF and the IOC until winter,” Bettman said, via Kuc. “It’s not on the front-burner right now.”
It’s not hard to understand where the league’s focus is right now with the World Cup inching ever closer, five outdoor games set for the coming season and preparations for the NHL’s 100th anniversary underway. Even still, though, it’s hard to feel positive about the direction things are going in terms of NHL participation at the Olympics.
IIHF president Rene Fasel has already said that he thinks there’s less than a 50 percent chance the NHL will send its players, but admitted the positive is that the players themselves want to participate. That doesn’t make their participation a slam dunk, though. There has been reported concerns about shutting down the season to accommodate the Olympics, the risk of injuries and some financial considerations, such as insurance and travel.
“There have been a lot of reports about positions that either the IOC or the IIHF have or will take and that’s something we’ll have to analyze at the time we have to make the appropriate decision,” Bettman said, via Kuc.
The short timeline for a decision to be made doesn’t necessarily mean there’s next to no hope that the NHL will participate, however. If discussions start by December, the powers that be will still have 14 months to work on getting players to the Olympics. When the decision was made to send players to the 2014 Olympics, a final decision wasn’t made until seven months before the games.
The NHL has participated in the past five Olympics, beginning with the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer marked the last time there was no NHL participation at the tournament.
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