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Gary Bettman doesn’t see NHL players at 2022 Olympics

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes the league will not participate in the Olympics for the forseeable future, unless the Winter Games return to the U.S. or Canada.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are in Beijing. A decision on NHL participation there is not expected until after the PyeongChang Olympics.

Will we ever see NHL players in the Olympics again, Bettman was asked by a Swedish TV station in an interview published last week:

“I never say never, but I find it hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense, unless, possibly, if the Winter Games are back in North America where the time frame and the attention and the logistics, travel, are a lot different,” Bettman said.

Bettman was in Stockholm for the NHL Global Series. The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators played games in in the Swedish capital on Friday and Saturday.

The NHL announced in April that it would not participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, ending a streak of five straight Winter Games with participation from the league.

The NHL did not participate in Olympics prior to 1998.

In recent years, Bettman said that the NHL was more open to participating at the Beijing Olympics than the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“The question is would the fact that the Winter Olympics in Beijing would introduce that country to hockey, give us an opportunity to make a real impression in China, where hockey is really in an embryonic state?” Bettman said in November 2015. “And that’s a discussion we have to have to determine whether or not there is an opportunity to grow the game in China by using the Winter Games with NHL players as a catalyst. That’s the question. I don’t know the answer.”

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NHL boss asked point-blank: ‘Is the 2018 Olympics dead?’

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The NHL has announced it will not participate in the 2018 Olympics, and commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t budge from that stance Monday.

“Is the 2018 Olympics dead?” a reporter asked Bettman at a press conference before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

We made an announcement, how long ago, Bill?” Bettman said, seated next to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Six weeks ago, we were very clear and definitive that the teams had no interest in going to the Olympics in PyeongChang. And I know that there have been a variety of comments either from René Fasel of the International Ice Hockey Federation or from representatives of the [NHL] Players’ Association suggesting that this was still an open issue. It is not and has not been. … I hope that was definitive enough.”

Earlier this month, Fasel and the IIHF said they were “exploring options” with the NHL Players’ Association and the IOC and still “keeping the door open” for NHL participation at the 2018 Olympics.

Fasel said he planned to call Bettman and hoped there was more time to convince Bettman to change the NHL’s opinion on Olympic participation.

Bettman has said that deadline has passed. The NHL plans to announce its full 2017-18 schedule in late June, without an Olympic break.

The NHL has already announced an All-Star weekend in late January, less than two weeks before the Winter Games. It did not hold All-Star games in 2006, 2010 and 2014 due to the Olympics, but did have All-Star games in 1998 and 2002, the first two Olympics with NHL participation.

Bettman repeated his Olympic refrain over the last several months again Monday.

“We’re not anti-Olympics,” he said. “We’re anti-disruption to the season, and I don’t believe that there’s any appetite to continue participation. Having said that, we said [in previous meetings with the IOC, IIHF and NHLPA], listen, if there’s something you want to tell us that might change the equation, that might interest the teams, we’ll listen. We weren’t negotiating. We never negotiated.”

Specifically, Bettman said the NHL suggested in a November meeting with the NHLPA a nine-year calendar that included, among other items, NHL participation in the 2018 and 2022 Olympics. The negotiations obviously did not lead to an agreement.

Bettman recently made a three-day visit to 2022 Winter Olympic host China, where the NHL plans to hold two exhibition games in September.

In all of his meetings in China, including with the country’s minister of sport, Bettman said the 2022 Beijing Winter Games were not once brought up by the Chinese.

“The concern is about growing the game [in China]; it’s not about two weeks in 2022,” Bettman said. “What happens with the Olympics in 2022 is something that we don’t have to address right now, so we’re not going to.”

The biggest complication in the NHL not participating in the 2018 Winter Games is the situation of Alex Ovechkin, who has said he plans to leave the Washington Capitals to play for Russia regardless. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis supported Ovechkin last year but backed off a bit in April, according to Sports Business Daily.

“We have an expectation that none of our players are going, but I don’t want to get involved in the gymnastics involved in what that means,” Bettman said Monday. “There’s no reason to pick that fight right now.”

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Gary Bettman quashes renewed Olympic hope in talk with IIHF boss

Gary Bettman
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IIHF president René Fasel and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly spoke Tuesday about possible NHL Olympic participation in PyeongChang.

They did not get very far.

“[Bettman] told me again, René the decision is we will not go,” Fasel said, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger. “Only death is final, but Gary was very clear yesterday when he said we’re not going, so what can I do?”

Renewed hope that the NHL could participate in a sixth straight Olympics sprang last weekend, when Fasel was reported in German media saying he was talking with the NHL about possible Olympic participation and set a July deadline.

The IIHF later denied talks with the NHL. Fasel clarified that he meant the NHL Players’ Association in a news conference Tuesday, according to the Canadian Press.

With Fasel making no ground, the IIHF boss is resting hopes on the NHLPA.

“The players are the ones to go,” Fasel said, according to Dreger. “They have to make an important step here.”

The NHL said in an April 3 statement that it intended to proceed without taking an Olympic break in 2018 and considered the matter “officially closed.” That would snap a streak of five straight Winter Olympics with NHL participation starting in 1998.

The NHL previously asked for concessions (mostly financially driven) from the IOC, IIHF or the NHLPA to entice NHL owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

Bettman followed up on April 21 by saying it’s too late for the league to change its mind, even if a new, sweetened deal is offered by the IOC, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Looking at Tuesday’s comments, Bettman isn’t budging from that stance.

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