The NHL remains reluctant to reverse course and compete at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing despite new assurances from Olympic officials to lift various major stumbling blocks, which also have the backing of the league’s players.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly significantly tamped down hopes of the world’s best players returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2014 by referring to recent talks as being “very preliminary” and leaving open many unanswered questions.
“We aren’t there yet. In fact, we aren’t even close to being there,” Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Monday. “At this point in time, we continue to believe that the negatives outweigh the positives.”
At the same time, Daly raised another concern by suggesting the issue of Olympic participation might be resolved easier if it were tied to ongoing negotiations to extend the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players.
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr responded by telling The AP he hoped the NHL wasn’t moving the goal posts on the union in regards to the issue of Olympic participation, with the Beijing Games taking place before the current CBA expires.
“I can’t figure out why anybody would not want to go and take advantage of this opportunity because it doesn’t come around every day,” Fehr told The AP by phone.
“We think and have always thought that a matter like this should be addressed on its own merits, and it seems to us that the merits on this one are crystal clear, pellucidly clear,” he added.
The setback in discussions comes a week after NHL and NHLPA officials attended a meeting in New York where the International Ice Hockey Federation provided mostly verbal — but few written — assurances addressing many concerns that prompted the league to decline to participate at the Winter Games in South Korea. The NHL had participated in the previous five Olympics.
Among the long-standing issues IIHF chief Rene’ Fasel addressed included paying for players’ travel and insurance costs. Another issue was providing the league and union access to video and still images to allow both to market its players.
Daly called the meeting “positive,” but said the league continues to have “valid reservations” over how Olympic participation disrupts its schedule by having to shut down the regular season for two weeks once every four years.
A message left with Fasel and the IIHF was not immediately returned.
Fehr was encouraged following the meeting.
“The impression I had coming out of the meeting was that there ought to be a way to get this done to everybody’s satisfaction,” Fehr said.