PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NHL remains open to continuing to send its players to the Olympics, just so long as it doesn’t have foot the bill.
“Our teams are not interested in paying for the privilege” of Olympic participation, Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks.
NHL players have been a fixture at the Olympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, thanks in large part to significant financial support from the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which have handled most of the travel costs, accommodations and insurance for league owners.
Bettman pointed to IOC President Thomas Bach‘s stated resistance to providing subsidies for any sport as a major stumbling block to having the league stop in the middle of the 2017-18 season so over 100 players can head to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games.
Bettman said if the issue remains unresolved “I have no doubt it will have significant impact on our decision.” He described the potential cost as “many, many millions of dollars. This is no small-ticket item.”
The Olympics has helped the NHL expand its global footprint while providing a series of iconic moments, including Sidney Crosby‘s golden goal on home soil in the 2010 final and T.J. Oshie‘s shootout performance while leading the U.S. to a victory over host Russia in Sochi two years ago.
Yet with the NHL-backed World Cup of Hockey coming to North America this fall, the league may no longer need the Olympics as much as it once did. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to speculate whether the World Cup would become a more frequent event if the NHL pulled out of the Winter Games.
“The World Cup is not going to be an isolated event, it’s something we’re committed to,” Daly said. “It’s part of a series we want to do, events we want to create that adds to international presence of NHL.”
The biggest issue concerns insurance premiums required to cover NHL players during Olympic competition. Owners want protection should one of their players get hurt during the games, an injury that could have both short- and long-term ramifications on the team and the player’s future. With salaries skyrocketing, providing coverage for 150-plus NHL players is a major financial commitment, one the IOC and IIHF appear to be in no rush to cover.
There remain other issues the league would have to work out with the NHL Players’ Association, and Bettman said there have been no “substantive” talks with the union about 2018, though if the financial specifics with the IOC and IIHF aren’t worked out, it probably won’t matter.
“It almost becomes an easy showstopper, and you don’t have to get into the other discussions,” said Bettman, who expects there to be some sort of final decision by December.