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Gary Bettman on hockey at Summer Olympics, leaving the door open, Ovechkin

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In his first year as NHL commissioner in 1993, Gary Bettman met with then-International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch to discuss NHL participation in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Bettman asked the 73-year-old Samaranch if hockey could be moved to the Summer Games.

“I don’t think I finished the sentence before he said no,” Bettman recalled in 2009, according to the Canadian Press. “The Winter Olympics are too dependent on hockey in terms of attention [and] ticket sales. We are from that standpoint perhaps their most important event.”

On Tuesday night, Bettman made his first public comments since the NHL’s Monday announcement that it would not accommodate sending players to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, ending a streak of five straight Olympics with blanket NHL participation starting in 1998.

Bettman intimated that he brought up the Summer Games again in recent discussions with Olympic and international officials.

“Listen, if the IOC would move the Olympic hockey tournament to the summer, that would be great. OK?” Bettman said on Sportsnet in Canada. “We’d be thrilled to have our players participate because then it doesn’t affect our season.”

Bettman was asked Tuesday if there is any chance the NHL could change it’s mind on 2018. He did not completely rule it out:

Sportsnet: It’s still believed by most that we have talked to that the door is not 100 percent closed, that the timing of your announcement leaves the opportunity for someone, whether it’s the IOC, the IIHF or the Players’ Association, to come forward with a proposal that would be more amendable to ownership.

Bettman: I don’t think that’s accurate or realistic. The fact of the matter is that we have been clear for a very long period of time that the clubs have had enough of how disruptive the Olympics are to our season, when we have to shut down for three weeks.

Sportsnet: If you hang up from us, and the phone rings and it’s [NHL Players’ Association executive director] Don Fehr on the other line, saying, ‘I’d like to sit down and discuss possible things we could to make sure our players go to the Olympics,’ will you listen?

Bettman: I would never not take a meeting with Don to hear anything he has to say on any subject. But the more important point here is, we’re not looking for a negotiation. … We left the door open, not for a negotiation, to see if anybody had a suggestion.

It was unclear from Bettman’s last answer whether “left the door open” referred to the past, before Monday’s announcement, or remains Bettman’s current view.

If the NHL follows through on not participating in PyeongChang, the most immediate issue is that of individual players wanting to leave their teams to go anyway.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has taken this stance, and his team owner, Ted Leonsis, has supported him. Ovechkin repeated his desire Tuesday.

Leonsis backed off a bit Tuesday, saying he had not thought about what he will do if one of his players wants to go to PyeongChang, according to Sports Business Daily.

“What the league now does with the IOC, I will wait to see what happens,” Leonsis said, according to the report. “But I’m not going to spend five seconds thinking about what happened yesterday when the playoffs are a week away.”

Bettman said those situations will “be dealt with appropriately at the appropriate time.”

“I love Alex as a person and as a player,” Bettman said. “We don’t have to deal with that now. My expectation is that NHL players will be here playing for their teams. We don’t have to get into that kind of debate and argument now. There’s plenty of time between now and the Olympics.”

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MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set

Boglarka Kapas, world champion swimmer, tests positive for coronavirus

Boglarka Kapas
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Boglarka Kapas, the Hungarian swimmer and world 200m butterfly champion, said she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I don’t have any symptoms yet, and that’s why it’s important for you to know that even if you feel healthy you can spread the virus,” was posted on her social media. “Please be careful, stay at home and stay healthy.”

Nine total members of the Hungarian national team — including swimmers and staff — have tested positive, according to the federation.

Kapas said her first test was negative but a second test showed she had the virus. She was staying in quarantine at home for two weeks.

Kapas, 26, won the 200m fly at last summer’s world championships by passing Americans Hali Flickinger and Katie Drabot in the last 25 meters. She clocked 2:06.78 to prevail by .17 of a second.

Kapas also took bronze in the Rio Olympic 800m freestyle won by Katie Ledecky.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHL players: Marie-Philip Poulin is world’s best female hockey player

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The U.S. may have the world’s best women’s hockey team, but NHL players believe Canadian Marie-Philip Poulin is the world’s best player.

Poulin received the most votes out of 496 responses in the 2019-20 NHLPA Player Poll, conducted before the season was suspended. The tally:

Poulin: 39.92%
Hilary Knight (USA): 36.29%
Kendall Coyne Schofield (USA): 15.52%
Emily Pfalzer Matheson (USA): 1.41%
Other: 6.85%

Last year, Knight received the highest percentage of votes from 203 NHL players (27.59), edging Poulin (24.14) with Amanda Kessel third (12.81) and Coyne Schofield and Pfalzer Matheson each receiving 5.91 percent.

Why were Poulin and Knight swapped this year? Perhaps Poulin’s Canadian team winning the debut of the NHL All-Star Skills Competition women’s 3-on-3 game on Jan. 24, even though Knight scored and Poulin did not.

Poulin, now 29, scored both goals in the 2010 Olympic final and the game-tying and -winning goals in the 2014 Olympic final. Even before her Olympic debut at age 18, the daughter of Quebec hospital workers was dubbed “the female Sidney Crosby.”

Knight, 30, led last April’s world championship tournament with seven goals as the U.S. won a fifth straight title. Poulin played 4 minutes, 44 seconds, total at the tournament, missing time with a knee injury.

This spring’s tournament, which was to start Tuesday, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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MORE: Winter Olympic sports season produced pain, stories to track for 2022