Getty Images

NHL helped end USA Hockey, women’s national team wage dispute

Leave a comment

The NHL’s support of women’s hockey included the league stepping in at the last moment to end a wage dispute between USA Hockey and national team players threatening to boycott the 2017 World Championship on home ice.

Two people familiar with the situation said the NHL agreed to pay USA Hockey to help fund the four-year agreement reached in March 2017. The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the league and USA Hockey have not made that information public.

The NHL also supports the idea of one women’s professional league and has several member teams involved in both leagues.

The Buffalo Sabres purchased the Buffalo Beauts in December to become the NHL’s first franchise to fully own an National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) team. The Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens each have partnerships with Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) teams based in their respective cities.

The NHL has been careful to avoid the appearance of favoring one league over the other. Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP last month he has no interest in forming a third league because he doesn’t want the NHL “to look like a bully” by pushing the existing leagues out of business.

Players want a single North American women’s professional hockey league. Bettman does, too. And now NWHL founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan is on record saying she is working toward that objective.

“One league is inevitable,” Rylan wrote in an email to the AP, her strongest statement regarding a potential merger with the rival CWHL.

Rylan’s comments come nearly four years after she split from the CWHL to establish the NWHL, which became the first women’s hockey league to pay its players a salary.

The investor-funded NWHL has provided a framework for how a pro women’s league can function, but most observers agree that two leagues competing for the same talent pool and limited financial resources isn’t going to last — or help the game grow.

The U.S.-based NWHL, in its fourth season, grew to five teams after expanding into Minnesota this year. The CWHL, in its 12th season, began paying its players a salary for the first time last year and has six teams, including ones in Worcester, Massachusetts, and China.

Rylan is now echoing what Jayna Hefford said in July upon being named the CWHL’s interim commissioner. The former Canadian star called the formation of one league “a priority” and projected it could happen within two years.

Rylan’s comments also come after both leagues discussed merger options this summer, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The AP. Also on the table is an NWHL proposal for both league champions to compete in an end-of-season playoff, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

Rylan confirmed she’s spoken to Hefford, and added: “There is a path, and Jayna and I and our business partners will continue those discussions.”

Hefford expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of joining forces.

“It’s certainly something we have to figure out,” she said, while noting she’s still new on the job. “I’m trying to understand what the challenges are, what the roadblocks are and try to figure out a way to get us to the point where we have one truly professional women’s hockey league.”

Hefford was scheduled to meet this week with NHL officials, including Bettman, for the first time since replacing former commissioner Brenda Andress.

Bettman is hesitant of the NHL assuming control of the CWHL or NWHL because, as he put it, “we don’t believe in their models.”

“We need to start on a clean slate,” Bettman said.

“If at some point the leagues say, ‘We’ve had enough, we don’t see this as a long-term solution, we’d like you to start up and we’ll discontinue operations,’ then we’ll do it. But we’re not pushing it,” he said. “If we’re going to get involved, it cannot fail, which means it has to be on us.”

Rylan, who previously worked at the NHL, took exception to the comments.

“What’s it like when Gary Bettman tells the media the model for our women’s league doesn’t work? Of course, it’s really disappointing,” said Rylan, who nonetheless called Bettman a “gracious adviser.”

“Can we improve? No question about it,” she added. “If Gary and more NHL owners want to get involved in women’s hockey, that’s an awesome an exciting thing. Let’s get started now.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, a retired six-time Olympian and newly hired Maple Leafs assistant director of player development, said, “I think the NHL should and could do more and in a heartbeat make it happen.” But she placed more of an onus on the players to make it happen.

“They need to take control and move it forward, and the NHL is there and ready when they are,” said Wickenheiser, the first woman to be hired to a hockey operations role.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. hockey captain marries longtime Canadian rival

Gary Bettman doesn’t see NHL players at 2022 Olympics

AP
3 Comments

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman believes the league will not participate in the Olympics for the forseeable future, unless the Winter Games return to the U.S. or Canada.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are in Beijing. A decision on NHL participation there is not expected until after the PyeongChang Olympics.

Will we ever see NHL players in the Olympics again, Bettman was asked by a Swedish TV station in an interview published last week:

“I never say never, but I find it hard to envision a scenario where it makes sense, unless, possibly, if the Winter Games are back in North America where the time frame and the attention and the logistics, travel, are a lot different,” Bettman said.

Bettman was in Stockholm for the NHL Global Series. The Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators played games in in the Swedish capital on Friday and Saturday.

The NHL announced in April that it would not participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, ending a streak of five straight Winter Games with participation from the league.

The NHL did not participate in Olympics prior to 1998.

In recent years, Bettman said that the NHL was more open to participating at the Beijing Olympics than the PyeongChang Winter Games.

“The question is would the fact that the Winter Olympics in Beijing would introduce that country to hockey, give us an opportunity to make a real impression in China, where hockey is really in an embryonic state?” Bettman said in November 2015. “And that’s a discussion we have to have to determine whether or not there is an opportunity to grow the game in China by using the Winter Games with NHL players as a catalyst. That’s the question. I don’t know the answer.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. Olympic hockey teams to be announced New Year’s Day

NHL boss asked point-blank: ‘Is the 2018 Olympics dead?’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 2018 Olympic hockey groups set