In the newest CBA, the NHL gave into the NHLPA’s demands and agreed to return to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026. However, the coronavirus pandemic is complicating matters for the Beijing Games.
Monday, before Game One of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commish Bill Daly met with the press digitally via Zoom and gave an update on negotiations.
They were not optimistic.
"It's still very much a work in progress."
Gary Bettman and Bill Daly provide an update on the possibility of having NHL players participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics. pic.twitter.com/bKEYnlgU8R
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 28, 2021
Gary Bettman squirmed in his chair while being asked if the NHL would have a three-week break in the regular season for the Olympics.
“We don’t know as of right now and that’s causing us, uh, in addition to consternation, a fair number of issues relative to getting next season up and running,” Bettman said. “It’s reaching the point that we’re getting concerned about the impact on next season because of the uncertainty and this may be a good time anticipating future questions for Bill to give an update as to where the Olympic issue stands.”
“Well, it’s still very much a work in progress,” Daly said. “All parties are engaged. You know what the league’s traditional and historical position has been on the Olympics. We remain of that view. And in fact, with the future games in Beijing and the continued uncertainty with the virus and the games being halfway around the world, not necessarily an ideal games to elect to go to. Having said that, we negotiated in good faith with the Players’ Association last summer. We agreed that if the conditions were right, and we could reach an agreement on all the material issues, that we would commit and support going to the Olympics and that remains our position. We’ve deferred to the Players’ Association to try work through those issues and that continues to be, as I said, a work in progress. As Gary eluded to, time is running very short. Hopefully, we’ll have some resolution soon.”
Bettman added, “We have real concerns about whether or not it’s sensible to be participating, having our players participate and us shutting down for the Olympic Break, but as Bill said, we made a promise if that it can all be worked out, then we’ll go along with it. We are concerned, both about the timing and about the open issues and the prospects of actually being there.”
The NHL’s support to letting its players play in the Olympics is apparently only one step in a complicated multi-step process. NBCSN’s Sean Leahy detailed the undertaking in an article from 2020.
Next comes discussions with the International Olympic Committee and overcoming hurdles that led to sitting out 2018 and years of complaints from NHL owners.
Pausing the season for three weeks, a lack of financial support for player insurance, travel, as well as the inability to use highlights have been among the biggest gripes from the league side. Players have long wanted to go to represent their countries and attempt to win gold.
Add in the coronavirus pandemic, that caused chaos, lost the league a boatload of money, and shortened the league’s 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons and it’s easy to understand their unease.
“A lot has to do with the uncertainty of the games with respect to what the rules will be at the games whether there’ll be spectators, whether there won’t be spectators. How the Tokyo Games may impact how the Beijing Games are run. There are COVID-related insurance issues that are very important to all the relevant parties,” Daly said. “There remain open issues. I think we’ve worked through a lot of the more basic issues. We continue to be on unchartered territory, to a certain extent, due to the COVID situation and what that means and what’ll be like come February in Beijing. There’s a lot of uncertainty and unknowns that we’re grappling with and that takes time.”
The NHL says there needs to be an agreement finalized before the NHL Draft (July 23-24).
“The timeline is kind of what we suggested, that we do have a schedule that needs to be released in a couple of weeks,” Daly said. “The commissioner alluded to the fact that typically happens between the end of the Stanley Cup Final and the Draft. The Draft this year is on July 23. I would hope that we could continue to work through the issues and know where we are well in advance of that.”
“We’re already past the time that we hoped that this would be resolved,” Bettman added. “That’s why I said before, the uncertainty that this is causing on the scheduling we have to do for next season is becoming concerning. We’ll deal with it, just as we’ve managed to be agile and flexible over the last 15 months, but we’re getting to be on a rather short timeframe now because this can’t go on indefinitely.”
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