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NHL Players’ Association head ‘more optimistic than ever’ about 2018 Olympics

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TORONTO (AP) — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr offered competing visions Sunday on the likelihood that NHL players will attend the next Winter Olympics.

Speaking ahead of the Centennial Classic, Bettman reiterated that NHL owners were reluctant to return for a sixth consecutive Olympics. Fehr, on the other hand, said he was “more optimistic now than I ever have been” that players would go to South Korea in 2018.

Fehr said he was confident that a deal would be reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee that would allow for that possibility.

Bettman, however, said there was nothing new to report from early December when the NHL’s Board of Governors met in Palm Beach, Fla., and voiced “strong negative sentiment” to the PyeongChang Winter Games, citing the challenges of a season shutdown, the lack of tangible benefit to the league and the IOC’s resistance to covering out-of-pocket payments for players to attend.

He said there had been no further discussions with the IOC or the IIHF “and absent some compelling reason I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season.

“We’ve been there, done that five times and while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different,” Bettman said, referring to their value to the league, “when you’re halfway around the world, it’s not the easiest thing to have in our season.”

Bettman said it wasn’t just the risk of injury at the Olympics, but the effects a compressed NHL schedule has on the league and its players. Even the newly added break for NHL clubs during the regular season is causing concerns among players, he said, because it further tightens the schedule.

Asked why he was so optimistic, Fehr said: “You get a sense of things as they go along. You get a sense of things and how they’re likely to end up. Doesn’t mean you’re always right, but you get a sense of things.”

Given the time constraints of getting a deal done, Fehr didn’t think it was likely that the current collective bargaining agreement would be extended as part of a deal to get players to the Olympics. The players’ association recently rejected a proposal from the league that would have seen the CBA extended while confirming NHL participation in a wide-ranging schedule of international events, including the Olympics.

Fehr did suggest that the players’ association might be open to agreeing to such a plan outside of the current CBA, one that would include the Olympics, World Cup of Hockey and Ryder Cup-style events.

“The optimum would be something that swept in a wide-range of international events over a period spanning several years and that would include the Olympics,” Fehr said. “But if the optimum is not attainable or not attainable at once then you go for the short-term and I don’t have a judgment yet as to which I think it’s likely to be if either.”

Otherwise, a deal that would include only the 2018 Olympics is possible.

The NHL recently began working on two separate schedules for the 2017-18 season, one that would include the Olympics and one that wouldn’t.

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

“We are confident that they [potential replacement players] would choose not to play,” the U.S. players said in a statement.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

“We ask that they approve the original agreement that, the players believed, was acceptable to both parties after Monday’s meeting,” the players said in a statement. “Unless there is an agreement, the players remain resolved to bypass the defense of the world championship.”

Neither side has said when the next meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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MORE: NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set