VANCOUVER, B.C. – The NHL should realize having its players perform at the Olympics raises the league’s exposure and increases its fan base, the president of the International Olympic Committee said Thursday.
“I think it’s important for the Olympic Games to have the NHL,” Jacques Rogge said during a telephone conference call. “That goes without saying.
“But also I think it’s important for the NHL to have their stars shine in the Olympic Games. If you look at the audience of the final of the Olympic hockey tournament, it matches the final of the Stanley Cup. That is a good promotion for hockey in North America.”
NHL players will participate in the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 12. But the league has not decided if it will allow its players to compete at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
That has prompted Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin and others to say they will play at the Games in their home country even if the rest of the NHL doesn’t go.
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, said Rogge is welcome to his opinion.
“I understand that’s Mr. Rogge’s point of view,” Daly said in an email to The Canadian Press. “It doesn’t mean that point of view is necessarily shared by our owners or the league.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said that Olympic participation will require extensive discussions between the league and the NHL Players’ Association.
Bettman said shutting down the league for two weeks creates problems – particularly when the Games are staged outside of North America.
Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the New Jersey Devils, has said he’s totally against returning to the Olympics. He said the tournament removes some prime dates from the NHL schedule.
Rogge said Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, “is in discussion” with Bettman about the Olympics.
“We have not given up the hope we can find a good solution and that not only Ovechkin could come play in Sochi as he promised, but also the (other) stars can play.”
NHL players first competed at the 1998 Nagano Games. The 2002 tournament in Salt Lake City, where Canada defeated the U.S. to win its first gold medal in hockey for 50 years, drew massive television audiences.
The league also sent its players to the 2006 Turin Games.