COLUMBUS – Now is the time for the best players in the NHL to stand up the way they do when the Stanley Cup is on the line. Because if they don’t push the issue on Olympic participation, the NHL will be more than happy to trash the entire concept.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced the details of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, which will be played in Toronto Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016. Both sides spoke of the event in glowing terms and there was much singing from the same songbook. That’s because both sides stand to gain a mother lode of money from a World Cup. The profits for the event are split 50-50 between the NHLPA and the league, meaning they will not be part of Hockey Related Revenues and will have no bearing on the salary cap. Each side is free to take its money and do with it whatever it wants.
So it comes as no surprise that Kumbaya will be used as the national anthem for the Young Stars under-23 team and We Are Family will be the anthem for the Pan-European team.
But make no mistake. When it comes to the Olympics, the two sides are completely opposed. The NHL has no interest in going and the players still want to participate, even if it means the best ones are being asked to wear their country’s colors every two years.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly all but said the league doesn’t want to go to the Olympics, particularly with the next two being in distant time zones. He said the league still has to speak with new International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and the Pyeongchang organizing committee whether they’d be willing to pay the expenses and make the accommodations Sochi did to have NHLers before they can make a decision.
But even then, the NHL doesn’t want to go.
“I’m not sure the same commitment is going to be there from the international community on this one,” Daly said. “And at least to this point, the IOC is not ready to have that discussion. That’s down the road a little bit.”
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in no uncertain terms that the players will want to play in the Olympics if they get the accommodations they’re seeking. “As I’ve said before,” Fehr said. “On the assumption that you can work out the kind of agreements with the IIHF and the IOC that we have in the past…if we could do that, of course the players are going to want to play.”
When asked whether the league is of the same mind as the players on the Olympic issue, Daly said: “I’m not sure it is. I’m not suggesting it’s an empty-netter one way or the other. We have a sense of where our board is on the issue, where our general managers are on the issue and that will guide our view.”
The concept of having a World Cup is a great one. And the hybrid teams will add some intrigue. From a personal standpoint, your trusty correspondent doesn’t care if the tournament includes a team of guys with red hair from Saskatchewan, as long as the league continues with its Olympic participation.
Both sides talked about growing the game, but a World Cup would be about growing their coffers. The World Junior would be much like the World Junior Championship, an event that one country cares about infinitely more than all the others. And that one country has the ability to provide a lot of revenue to the event. In case you haven’t noticed, Canadians like to drink beer at hockey games.
But if the league truly wants to grow the game, it will stay on the largest stage in the world. Full stop. Anything short of that will be a money grab. And that’s fine. It’s their league and their players and they have the right to make that determination. But don’t talk about growing the game globally if you’re going to limit your international participation to the World Championship and an exhibition tournament, then leave out the Olympics.
So now it’s up to the players. The best ones, the stars of this game, have to push the issue here. They’ll have to shame the NHL into participation on this one. It's time for guys such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Lundqvist to put this on their agenda and push really hard because the NHL is prepared to throw the Olympics down the sinkhole in the name of the almighty dollar. And they’ll have to be prepared to put themselves through an intense tournament for which they’ll receive essentially nothing every two years.
Other highlights from commissioner Gary Bettman’s news conference Saturday:
* The 2016 Winter Classic will take place Jan. 1, 2016 at Gillette Stadium between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.
* Other outdoor games next season: Feb. 21 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks at TFC Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota; and Feb. 27 between the Colorado Avalanche and Detroit Red Wings at Coors Field in Denver.
* The Young Stars team for the World Cup will be limited to players 23 and under and will not be restricted to NHL players, meaning if there is a junior or college phenom a la Eric Lindros in the 1991 Canada Cup, he would be able to play. However, under-23 players will not be able to play for Canada or USA, only the Young Stars team. So even if Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are good enough to play for their national teams, they’ll be playing for the under-23 team. The team will likely have an even split of Canadians and Americans.
* There will be no tryouts for the World Cup teams.
* With the Canadian dollar at 81 cents in U.S. funds, Bettman addressed the effect on the salary cap, saying the $73 million cap for next season is based on an 88-cent dollar. An 82-cent dollar would put the salary cap at $72.2 million, at 80 cents it would be $71.7 million. “The point I’m making is you are not going to see a dramatic difference,” Bettman said.
* Players will have microchips in their sweaters and the pucks for the skills competition and All-Star Game that will allow the league to compile data on things such as skating shooting speed. This will provide the league with a test run on establishing key data points that will deliver data and create a digital record of all aspects of the game. “We’re not sure where all this will take us,” Bettman said. “This is in the embryonic stages of a work in progress.”
* Bettman had nothing new to report on expansion. But Las Vegas and Seattle, if for no other reason than geographical balance, are the frontrunners. Nothing will happen in Seattle without a rink in place, however.
* Predictably, Bettman reported everything is smooth sailing from a financial standpoint for all 30 teams in the NHL. “Our franchises are healthy and all our franchises have never been stronger,” Bettman said. “Our ownership is the strongest it’s ever been.”
* The league and NHLPA have made a commitment to replace the godawful and incredibly ugly World Cup trophy.