TORONTO – Bob Nicholson believes the International Olympic Committee should do more for NHL owners in an effort to ensure the league’s continued participation in the Winter Games.
The Hockey Canada president believes a “number of issues” need to be sorted out if NHL players are going to be part of the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Chief among them is some form of compensation for league owners, who have released their players free of charge for the last four Winter Games.
“They’re giving the asset that really helps drive the Winter Olympic Games,” Nicholson said Thursday. “The Winter Olympic Games are successful, but let’s not kid ourselves—a lot of that is because NHL players are there.”
The issue was raised by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during a news conference at the Vancouver Olympics earlier this year. He noted that the league’s involvement was solely for “the good of the game” because it gives up a lot by disrupting its season and handing over its players for nothing.
Among the other concerns the NHL has is lack of control over the event. The league has limited access to players during the Olympics for platforms such as NHL.com and the NHL Network, and the IOC’s strict rules for rights-holders forbid TV highlights from the Games to be shown once the season resumes.
Nicholson believes some kind of mutually beneficial agreement can be worked out—if the IOC is willing to bend a little.
“I’m not going to sit here and bash the IOC, but the IOC, if they work in partnerships with those groups, I think they’d get more exposure,” said Nicholson. “It’s not going to cut down on their revenues—you’ve got to protect your revenue side. …
“We should work in a different way with the IOC for them to get more exposure.”
A final decision on the Sochi Games will likely be made as part of collective bargaining between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association. The current agreement expires in September 2012.
That could potentially put Hockey Canada and other national federations in a bind if the NHL decides to pull out of the Games at the last minute. Still, Nicholson hasn’t started working on a contingency plan.
“Not right now,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll adjust. We’re really going to try to support the NHL, the NHLPA, IIHF, IOC—everybody—to try to make sure that it happens. I think Canadians would be disappointed (if it didn’t).”
Hockey Canada will soon turn its attention to the 2011 IIHF World Championship, which will take place in Slovakia in May. Nicholson is hoping to continue giving former players a chance to work at that event.
Mark Messier was the GM of last year’s team. Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk and Luc Robitaille were involved in various capacities prior to that.
“We’re going to use other people,” said Nicholson. “We’re going to start to look at the world (championship) now. You’re going to see more former players involved. We need NHL general managers involved (as well), but with Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman, what those people have done for us is important.”
Possibilities include Scott Niedermayer, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Cam Neely, among others.
Nicholson was at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday to launch a project aimed at improving arenas in Canada. Lowe’s Home Improvement will be donating $500,000 over the next five years to help refurbish facilities around the country—starting with Vaughan Maple Lions Arena in suburban Toronto and Frank McCool Arena in Calgary.