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

AP
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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

In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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