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IIHF president hopes NHL changes its mind over 2018 Olympics

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PARIS (AP) — The NHL still has a couple more months to reverse its decision and opt to participate in next year’s Olympics in South Korea.

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said Tuesday his organization was in contact with the National Hockey League Players’ Association two or three times per week, hoping to work out a solution that will bring the sport’s biggest stars to Pyeongchang.

“I would say the latest we can do is end of June, beginning of July, for calendars, schedules, arenas,” Fasel said at a news conference during the hockey worlds. “We will see.”

Fasel, who is Swiss, also said he plans to call NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, but he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about his chances.

“I have a very good relation with Gary. But what can I say? I have nothing to give him,” Fasel said. “I can say ‘Hello, how are you? Great playoffs.’ Just social talk. Maybe I come to New York, we have a steak and go back. This is the way it is.

“The puck is for sure on the stick of the NHL Players’ Association and we will see.”

Last month, the NHL announced that it will not stop its season to allow players to compete at the Feb. 9-25 Olympics for the first time in 20 years.

“I’m a very positive person so I never give up, and there is still some time where maybe we can convince Gary Bettman to change his opinion,” Fasel said.

The NHL has not decided whether to allow teams to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. It was not immediately clear how the United States, Canada and other countries will fill Olympic rosters, though national federations have already begun planning.

“We played before without the NHL, we will have anyway a great tournament. But it would be so much better with the best players in the world,” Fasel said. “The players want to go, so I really don’t understand.

“But if Gary decides not to go to the Olympics, the fans will not be happy, the players will not be happy, I hope (the) media won’t be happy. The whole world will not be happy.”

Skipping the Olympics in Pyeongchang would be a huge mistake, Fasel said, in terms of growing hockey in Asia.

“There is a unique opportunity for our sport to show up there, a unique opportunity for the NHL to be there,” said Fasel, who is also a long-standing IOC member. “We are in discussion with the IOC. We have internally our discussion and we try and make a snowball, a package that maybe we can go to Gary (with) and say ‘Listen, Gary: Yes or no?’

“There is nothing bigger and more important. We don’t have a better platform for our sport than the Olympic Winter Games. Three billion people watching.”

NHL stars like Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist have all spoken out strongly in favor of taking part.

The NHL’s stance, if unchanged, would put Russia in a dominant position.

Russia is home to the Kontinental Hockey League, widely regarded as the strongest outside North America. Taking a schedule break for the Olympics is easier for the KHL, which already shapes its season to accommodate the world championships and national-team warmups.

“What we will do for sure if the NHL isn’t coming is that we will work in China, in the KHL,” Fasel said. “That will give the space to the Russian and the non-Russian clubs to be present in Asia.”

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MORE: List of NHL stars’ stances on trying to play at 2018 Olympics

Jonathan Toews says hockey ‘misrepresented’ if no NHL players at Olympics

Jonathan Toews, Connor McDavid
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Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews offered one of the most insightful takes to date on whether the NHL should send players to the PyeongChang Olympics.

“Quite frankly, I think to turn on the Olympics next year and watch the hockey teams, the players representing their country, if it’s not the best in the world, then I don’t know, I just feel like we’re misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale and a pretty huge level,” Toews told media after the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday. “A lot of the talk has been, it’s just the players that are pushing for it, it’s the players that are interested in wanting to go. I think the players do want to go, but I think it should be of interest to the players and the league. I think the NHL should be there for sure.”

Add Toews, who earned gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014, to a list of NHL superstars who have said they want to play in the Olympics. Ultimately, NHL officials will decide whether to take a break in the 2017-18 season to send players to the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

There was talk in the fall of an end-of-January deadline, but that appears out the window now. That’s no surprise, given NHL participation in Sochi wasn’t decided until July 2013.

But players can still take matters into their own hands. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has said he will play for Russia in PyeongChang regardless of if he has the NHL’s blessing, and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has supported that stance.

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, the NHL points leader at the All-Star break, is hoping to go to his first Olympics in PyeongChang.

“One hundred percent, [NHL players] should go,” McDavid said. “I can’t picture the Olympics without it, to be honest.”

Sidney Crosby has been less emphatic about the NHL Olympic situation, taking a wait-and-see approach.

MORE: 2018 Olympic men’s hockey groups set