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Bettman: Olympic decision possible within 6 months

by Dan Rosen

SOCHI -- The NHL and NHL Players' Association are hoping to make a decision on future player participation in the Olympics as quickly as possible, perhaps within the next six months, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman indicated in a press conference at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Tuesday.

The negotiations, which will involve the NHL, the Olympic organizing committee in South Korea, the NHLPA, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee, will determine whether the NHL sends its players to a sixth straight Olympics. NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr and IIHF President Rene Fasel also took part in the press conference.

"It's nothing that's been discussed; it's nothing that will be discussed while we're here in Sochi," Commissioner Bettman said. "All of us are here to enjoy this competition, and while I've seen lots of commentary over the last couple of weeks, both written and oral, the fact of the matter is there isn't anything that has been said in the last two weeks that hasn't been said for the last eight years.

"There are lots of people who have lots of opinions. Any of us could give you all the pros and cons involved. You can get quotes from any owner or any executive in the NHL on either side of the decision, and as I've said it isn't anything we're focused on and dealing with right now. We're all focused on what should be a terrific tournament, period, on that subject."

Commissioner Bettman echoed statements NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made last week, when Daly said a decision on the NHL and NHLPA's participation in the 2018 Olympics could be made within the next six months. Commissioner Bettman said he thinks that's not only reasonable, but something that would benefit the NHL if it decides to go to another Olympics.

"If we are going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible to use the advantages would be a good thing," Commissioner Bettman said. "And if we're not going to participate, giving the various national federations an opportunity to adjust to that, giving them enough time as possible would be good."

Fehr said the players will begin discussing the 2018 Olympics once they finish their postmortem on the current tournament. The players, he said, will take as long as necessary to decide if they want to continue their Olympic participation.

"They may say when we get to our meetings in July they know enough," Fehr said. "They may say discuss it with the players when we get to November. You do it as fast as you can, but in a democratic organization you have to do it at the rate the players are prepared to do it."

Daly said the two most important factors the NHL and NHLPA must consider when deciding to attend the Olympics are the logistics of travel to and from the host city and player insurance. He also said access for NHL media platforms is a consideration.

Sochi is nine times zones ahead of New York and 12 ahead of Los Angeles. Pyeongchang is five hours ahead of Sochi.

"It was a big challenge coming to Sochi, and it certainly would be a big challenge if we were to go to South Korea," Daly said. "Player insurance is always a factor with the magnitude and length of player contracts these days, an incredible number of assets at risk."

There is a general consensus that hockey at the Olympics is a bigger deal with NHL players. Commissioner Bettman said that in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, somewhere between 60-70 percent of the ticket sales, other than the opening and closing ceremonies, were for hockey.

However, Daly said that historically NHL ticket sales and television ratings have not gone up after the Olympics. The NHL also does not receive any revenues from the Olympics, and players are not paid to be here, but the IIHF reimburses the NHL for costs incurred for player participation, including travel.

"As a practical business matter, for the clubs individually, the Olympics have no tangible positive effect," Daly said. "Certainly for the visibility of ice hockey, which is kind of good, big-picture, for the National Hockey League, it's good. Given all the pros and cons, we made a determination that on balance it was more positive to be here than negative, and that's why we're in Sochi."

All indications are that it shouldn't be long before a decision is made on Pyeongchang.

"I think it's a decision we should be able to make relatively soon," Daly said, "and it's a decision, in fairness to the hockey world, that should be made relatively soon, because people have to make plans for 2018."

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