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Bettman: Wait and see on Sochi

by Dan Rosen
VANCOUVER -- Before committing to going to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Olympics, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the League and the NHL Players' Association will have to find a way to balance all the variables associated with making such a monumental decision.

IIHF President Rene Fasel said Thursday during a joint press conference with Bettman at Canada Hockey Place that the IIHF wants and needs the NHL to participate in the Olympics, but Bettman stressed that it's not a black-and-white issue.

"It's naive for anybody to think the Olympics are great, so let's go," Bettman said. "You need to understand that there is an impact on our season. The question is what can we do to balance that impact in a way in which makes sense to go? If you were looking at this in a vacuum, and all you were worried about is the two weeks of the Olympics, it's not a very difficult decision. But we don't exist in that vacuum."

Bettman stressed that he wasn't saying yes or no to the Olympics, but he outlined the many variables associated with the decision, leading with his concern about the effect shutting down the NHL season for two weeks has on business momentum gained from the first four and a half months of the season.

"When I point out these things, it's not to say, no, we're not going to go, but we have a multi-billion dollar business that we're responsible for," he said. "We have 20-plus million fans who watch our games in person and another couple of hundred million who watch on TV. We have to try to balance all the competing interests and evaluate them moving forward to see what makes sense."

Most importantly, as Bettman said, the NHL loans out its players to participate in the Olympics and the more than 140 competing in the current tournament add up to $2 billion in contract salaries.

"For two weeks we loan out the most important assets in our game and nobody should underestimate that," Bettman said.

The NHL schedule is a major factor. For instance, by Feb. 14 of this season 80 more games had been played in the NHL than were played by the same date last season.

"And, some of you who cover our games on a regular basis complained about our schedule," Bettman said. "We're going to have to look at the impact on our game competitively."

The location of the Olympics also matters, Bettman said. Sochi is eight time zones away from New York and 11 from Vancouver, so that has to be a consideration for media coverage and the well being of the players.

"From our standpoint, this one, being in Vancouver, being in Canada with Canada's game, was always a no-brainer," Bettman said. "But issues arise where people are saying 'why isn't this happening and why isn't that happening? I'm like you, I'm an invited guest to these Olympics. We don't have much control over things. That doesn't mean we're being ignored, but it's not like us running the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the All-Star Game or our Winter Classic. These are all things that will be discussed in due time."

Of course, since the location of the next Olympics is in Russia, the topic of the NHL's non-existing relationship with the KHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation was brought up Wednesday.

There is no current player-transfer agreement between the NHL and the KHL, but Bettman said the NHL's "relationship or the state of our relationship with the KHL has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we go to Sochi." He wouldn't even react to Alex Ovechkin's claim that he's going to Sochi no matter what.

"I don't think I'm going to bother addressing what we would do in the event we make that decision until we actually make a decision one way or the other," he said. "Let's deal with the first issue first and then we'll worry about what flows from that."

Fasel claims he can bring the NHL and KHL together to form a good relationship.

"It's just you have so different cultures," he said. "I promise you, I'll bring those guys together."

Either way, Bettman stressed repeatedly that no decision has been made, and technically it can't be because it will have to go into the new collective bargaining agreement that hasn't yet been ironed out.

The NHL's participation in Torino and in Vancouver fell under the current CBA that was negotiated during the work stoppage. That expires after the 2010-11 season, though the players have an option to extend it through the 2011-12 season.

Bettman said it's likely that Olympic participation will be a part of the new CBA.

"There is plenty of time to deal with it," Bettman said. "We are focused now on having the best possible tournament we can have, and in due time we will deal with myriad of issues that our Olympic participation brings."

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