While the NHL and its players fight over how they should divide a $3.2 billion pie, there are some interesting machinations playing out on the international hockey level that could see hockey get a powerful voice on the International Olympic Committee and Hockey Canada president and CEO Bob Nicholson taking the top job at the International Ice Hockey Federation.
A good number of dominos have to tip over for that to happen, but the skids are being greased at the moment for that possibility. And it all starts when the IIHF holds its general congress in Tokyo in 10 days. That’s when the international body holds its election of officers and when Nicholson will be elected vice-president in charge of North America. Since he stands unopposed in his bid to replace Murray Costello, he’s a shoo-in for the job.
Nicholson will continue to fulfill his duties with Hockey Canada while serving with the IIHF, but things will get interesting in a year. That’s because next September, Jacques Rogge will step down as the president of the IOC and will need to be replaced. IIHF president Rene Fasel, who is also on the IOC’s executive committee, is believed to be a legitimate candidate to succeed him. In fact, at the Vancouver Olympics when Rogge announced that he would step down as IOC president after his current term expires, he said, “perhaps my successor stands next to me,” referring to Fasel.
Fasel is said to be considering taking a run at the top IOC job, but has not committed to doing so yet. Observers say that if he did stand for election, he would be among the top three candidates for the post, so it’s a possibility he could get it. That, in turn, would leave the IIHF presidency vacant, a post for which Nicholson would be a natural choice.
A Canadian has not run the IIHF in almost 50 years, since Robert Lebel gave up the post in 1963, and just two of the 13 presidents of the IIHF have been Canadian. That suggests a Canadian is due for the top post and the organization couldn’t find a better candidate than Nicholson, who is both passionate about the game and has an outstanding business acumen. Under Nicholson’s watch, Hockey Canada has enjoyed unparalleled on-ice success with two Olympic gold medals in men’s hockey and three gold in women’s hockey to go along with five World Junior Championship titles, six women’s World Championships and three men’s World Championships.
Just as importantly, Nicholson has led the way in Hockey Canada becoming a moneymaking machine through sponsorship and television deals and transforming the WJC into a multi-million dollar enterprise when it is held in Canada. He’s also a huge proponent of the game at the grassroots level and has been instrumental in implementing programs such as the Initiation Program and others that emphasize individual skill development and enjoyment of the game over winning and strategy. He’s also been a driving force behind an effort to build more rinks in Canada.
If Nicholson could bring the same touch to the international game, everyone in the hockey world would benefit. Nicholson has routinely turned down opportunities to run entire NHL operations, including most recently the Tampa Bay Lightning, so getting him would be an enormous coup for the IIHF. If he were to go, observers believe current chief operating officer Scott Smith would be the most natural candidate to replace him at Hockey Canada.
And by having Fasel running the IOC, you can assume hockey would remain prominent in its plans. It would be a big help to women’s hockey, a sport Rogge opined could be in jeopardy unless countries other than Canada and USA begin to improve their programs.
BATTLE OF WILLS BEGINS
With one day left before the NHL officially locks out its players for the second time in eight years, it’s clear the cavernous distance between the two sides in this dispute is not going to be bridged any time in the near future. With four weeks left before the real games are supposed to begin, hope is dim that the two sides will even be anywhere near on the same page even by then.
All of which makes most fans trot out a familiar refrain. “Lock the two sides in a room and don’t let them out until they reach an agreement,” is a pretty popular one in times like this. And if Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr and their cabal of lieutenants believed that would ultimately remedy this situation, I have no doubt that is what both of them would be willing to do.
But what would be the point when one side’s goals are so diametrically opposed to the other’s? What good would it do to have the two sides sitting in a room staring at one another, or even worse, becoming more entrenched in their positions.
Actually, what these two sides need more now than ever is a cooling off period. Nothing is going to get accomplished in the next little while anyway. Unfortunately, nothing is going to change in this dispute until somebody starts feeling some real pain. And the betting here is that the players are going to feel it as a group a lot more quickly than the owners will.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.