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NHL prepares two different 2017-18 schedules, one with Olympic break

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TORONTO (AP) — If the NHL needs a compelling reason to compete in the next Winter Olympics, Bill Daly says the league hasn’t found one yet.

And the NHL deputy commissioner added Friday that he’s not going speculate on what it might take to convince a majority of the NHL’s board of governors that the world’s best players should take the ice in South Korea in little more than a year.

“From our board’s perspective, there has to be a compelling reason for us to go the Olympics,” Daly said. “And at this point, as I stand here now, we’re searching for that reason.”

Daly then called it a “fair question,” when asked who or what might sway the league.

“The question is, does anything change?” he said. “At this point, nothing has happened that would change where we were three weeks ago.”

Daly was referring to the NHL’s Board of Governors meetings in Florida, when Commissioner Gary Bettman said there was significant opposition among team owners to participate in the 2018 Games. Daly spoke in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs are hosting the Detroit Red Wings for the Centennial Classic outdoor game on Sunday.

His comments are the latest in the NHL’s bid to apply pressure on the International Ice Hockey Federation to meet league demands involving travel and insurance costs. And they also present the latest signal of a league not entirely convinced of the benefits of breaking up its schedule to have its players competing at a time while most North Americans are sleeping or just getting out of bed. South Korea is 14 hours ahead of North America’s Eastern time zone.

The NHL has had its players compete in the previous five Winter Olympics, starting with the 1998 Nagano Games.

A final decision hasn’t been made and Daly declined to say when it might come. He said the NHL is still waiting on the IIHF to present its case while also responding to league concerns, which he expects early next month.

Daly also noted the league is still considering the possibility of playing in South Korea by preparing to devise two separate schedules for the 2017-18 season, one of which would feature an Olympic break.

Daly said the reason for developing two schedules was made so that the league doesn’t appear to be imposing a hard deadline on the IIHF.

The league failed in an initial bid to continue competing at the 2018 Olympics by asking the NHL Players’ Association to consider changing the collective bargaining agreement. The NHL was seeking to eliminate the union’s opt-out option in 2019 and extend the labor pact three years through the 2024-2025 season.

Daly said the union turned down the offer by saying it needed more time consult with its players.

“It’s not something they could accept at this point, and we certainly understand that,” Daly said.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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