The topic sounded benign enough: Developing a Global Hockey Agenda. But given the composition of the panel and the predisposition of much of the audience, it shouldn't have been surprising that, Wednesday afternoon, the passion that is so central to our game bubbled up to provide this 2010 World Hockey Summit with its most rollicking moments.
Following a scene-setting presentation from longtime Swiss coach Ralph Kreuger, who recently was hired as an associate coach by the Edmonton Oilers
, the fireworks began.
The gist of the conflict: The understandable emotion in the room that NHL players participate in the 2014 Olympics -- stoked by heartfelt pleas from KHL president Alexander Medvedev, Russian legend Slava Fetisov and Swedish icon Anders Hedberg
-- prompting an attempt at a reasoned explanation by NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly for the League's need to evaluate the benefits and then a characteristically passionate response from Brian Burke
The Leafs' GM, an unabashed fan of Olympic hockey and the GM of Team USA in Vancouver, couldn't hide his displeasure at what he considered the uninformed minimization of the NHL's concerns with shutting down its season.
"It's just not that simple," Burke declared. "And we're letting it become an emotional issue in this room.
"I do believe, and the Toronto Maple Leafs
believe, that NHL players should go to the Olympics. But there's a big IF -- if and only if some of our concerns are addressed."
Daly pointed out that it was he and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman that pushed for NHL players to participate in the Olympics starting in 1998, "so we can hardly be considered anti-Olympics."
However, this is a setting in which a couple of hundred hockey people -- still basking in the glow of their personal experiences from the Vancouver Games and with no personal stakes in the financial health of the NHL and its clubs or the physical health of its players -- simply want to know that they're going to have a chance to see something similarly thrilling every four years. As a result, in merely stating that they have yet to even discuss the issue internally, no less declare a position, Bettman and Daly have been portrayed as arguing the position against Olympic participation by NHL players.
Emotional debate on this panel was not limited to the Olympic participation issue.
TSN analyst Glenn Healy
got some juices flowing by proposing that the World Cup of Hockey not only be reinstituted in non-Olympic, even-numbered years, but also be moved to February. Burke called that a discussion-killer that could bury Olympic participation in the process.
But Burke and Healy joined forces in arguing forcefully that NHL general managers and medical personnel must have more access to NHL players during international events such as Olympic Games and the annual IIHF World Championships.
"From the NHL perspective, international hockey is part of our tradition," Daly said. "It is one of the things that makes hockey special, that makes hockey great."
However, Daly cautioned, "though a four-year cycle makes sense, participating in an Olympics every four years, a World Cup every four years and a World Championship every year may be too much to ask. Our players need to have an offseason. They need to have a summer."