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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