VANCOUVER—With labour talks having already begun on an informal basis, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Don Fehr are in favour of rebooting the World Cup of Hockey tournament and holding it every four years.
The stumbling block to laying out a long-term calendar of international competition, however, revolves around the hot-button topic of the NHL competing at the Winter Olympics after skipping out on South Korea last year.
“One of the things I hope we will have is an agreement to establish the long-term schedule for international events which would include World Cups of Hockey,” said Fehr, stressing the plural “Cups” during an interview with The Associated Press at the league’s draft festivities in Vancouver this past weekend. “That’s a stand-alone event. It should not be seen as competing with or replacing the Olympics. It can be done.”
Bettman is on board when it comes to the World Cup.
“We think that’s a great event and it’s something we’ve been trying to work out for more than two years,” he said. “We’re all in favour of setting an international calendar, and it takes two to tango, so to speak.”
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There’s a caveat, of course, and the reason why the sides aren’t tangoing just yet.
“We think the World Cup of Hockey can be a wonderful event, particularly if we don’t go to the Olympics,” Bettman said.
Though resolving a way to reduce the percentage of players’ salaries being held back annually in an escrow fund is the NHL Players’ Association’s most pressing concern with the collective agreement, international competition is also on the list.
And that’s where the World Cup — revived in 2016 — and Olympic Games participation will play a role once formal negotiations begin this summer leading up to September deadlines in which either side can choose to opt out and terminate the current contract by the fall of 2020. The owners have until Sept. 1, and players on Sept. 15, to reach their decisions and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage.
“There have been a series of discussions. I don’t think I would call them formal negotiations yet,” Fehr said. “And if your next question’s going to be how it’s going to end up, I’m going to tell you, ask me in the middle of August because I don’t know yet.”
Players are unhappy with the league’s decision to skip the most recent Winter Games after having participated in the previous five. Shutting down the regular season for two weeks is an issue for owners, as was the time difference regarding South Korea, with games being played in the early morning for North American audiences.
The union sides with the league involving other issues regarding Olympic participation such as players’ medical insurance coverage and marketing rights. None of those apply when it comes to the World Cup because it’s jointly controlled by the league and union, with both sides splitting the revenue.
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The World Cup’s return was greeted with a tremendous amount of fanfare when Bettman and Fehr shared the podium at the 2015 all-star game festivities in Columbus, Ohio, to announce the eight-team event would be held in Toronto the following year. There was even discussion — but no resolution — of having it held every four years. The World Cup was previously played in 1996 and 2004, and succeeded the Canada Cup, which was held five times from 1976-91.
Speaking only for himself and not the union, Fehr said he would prefer the NHL compete at the Olympics and then have the World Cup held every four years — with two years separating the events.
“If it was up to me, I’d do it all sooner rather than later, but we’ll see,” Fehr said. “The question is, can we get the agreement on all the intervening pieces.”
Fehr noted the union and NHL can’t resolve the Olympic participation question alone in labour talks because outstanding issues must also be negotiated with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee.
Bettman doesn’t see why the sides can’t reach a deal on the World Cup, given they’re both in favour.
“Yes, so it should get done,” Bettman said. “We’re going to ultimately come together and figure out something that everybody’s comfortable with.”