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Commissioner Gary Bettman talks 2018 Olympics

Says League still looking for compelling reason to go to PyeongChang Games

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

TORONTO -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman echoed the statements deputy commissioner Bill Daly gave Friday regarding the negative sentiment that exists from the Board of Governors toward participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

"Absent some compelling reason, I'm not sure there's a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season," Commissioner Bettman said Sunday during a joint press conference with Wayne Gretzky prior to the start of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at Exhibition Stadium.

Commissioner Bettman said that while the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics were different because they were played in North America, participating in Olympics that are "halfway around the world" is not ideal from a business or player safety aspect.

"Not just for the risk of injury, because I see it discussed and reported during the Olympics, but the compression to the regular season is something that concerns us," Commissioner Bettman said. "We're hearing complaints now about the five-day break [built into the schedule this season]. While players say they like the five-day break they're also saying they don't like the compression that goes along with it, and that's something that is of great concern to us as well."

Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players' Association, had a different tone when he spoke about the Olympics and how the players feel about where they are in the process of resolving it.

"I'm more optimistic now than I ever have been," Fehr said.

Fehr said he is convinced an agreement can be reached with the International Ice Hockey Federation on covering the finances associated with participating in the Olympics, including paying for the travel, insurance and accommodations for the players and their guests.

Commissioner Bettman has said it's a "non-starter" if the costs are not covered and he has expressed concern about having them covered by the IIHF if it means the money will come from funds that would otherwise go toward growing the game at the grassroots level.

The costs have previously been covered by the International Olympic Committee, which has said it will not provide financing for PyeongChang.

"I assume there will be further discussions over the course of the next several weeks, and I choose to be optimistic on this one," Fehr said.

Fehr said the ideal scenario would be to create a broad international schedule featuring multiple events. That is also what Commissioner Bettman said during the Board of Governors meetings in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 8.

Fehr said the Olympics should be part of that schedule.

However, Fehr said if the League and the NHLPA can't agree on a broader international schedule they should focus on the short term, which would be going to the Olympics in 2018.

Fehr also said he doesn't think a decision has to be made this month, which is something Commissioner Bettman has said would be ideal for scheduling purposes for the NHL, the federations involved in the Olympic tournament and the IOC.

"Go look back to the dates on which Sochi was concluded and some of the other ones," Fehr said. "They were quite substantially later than this."

The NHL and NHLPA announced an agreement to attend the 2014 Sochi Olympics on July 19, 2013, seven months before the start of the tournament. The 2018 tournament is still more than 13 months away.

"That said, the earlier you can get it done the better," Fehr said. "No question about that."

Commissioner Bettman stressed that the League has not created a deadline for this decision, suggesting other parties have done so. The League has given itself a cushion for a later decision by working on two versions of the 2017-18 schedule, one with a break built into the schedule in February for the Olympics and one without it.

Commissioner Bettman also said the League is planning for the likelihood of three outdoor games next season, regardless of what the ultimate decision is on the Olympics.

"We're focused on a game on the same day that we played our first game [Dec. 19]," Commissioner Bettman said. "Obviously we're focused on the Winter Classic. My guess is we're probably talking about three games next year, give or take, but none have been finalized."

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