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World Cup top international priority for NHL

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

TORONTO -- A return of the World Cup of Hockey is the focus of the international hockey calendar for the league, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday at the Primetime Sports Management Conference.

Bettman said the NHL's participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games is still undecided, and hasn't been at the forefront of discussion in part because of an effort to try and revive the World Cup. Bettman said the league is not ready to make an announcement on when the next World Cup of Hockey would be, but they are working toward an agreement with the National Hockey League Players' Association.

The World Cup of Hockey, which is the successor to the Canada Cup, was first played in 1996. It was also played in 2004, but has been dormant since.

"We really haven't thought about (the Olympics)," Bettman said. "We are focused with the Players' Association on a World Cup. That's been getting all of our attention, and it is something we do jointly with the Players' Association so that is what we're focused on."

NHL players have participated in the Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Games. Bettman and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who spoke at the conference earlier in the day, said they would like to see a decision made on 2018 sooner rather than later. Daly said members of the International Ice Hockey Federation were in town for the weekend and there could be an update for the league on Tuesday.

"It is a mixed bag. It is not all good and it is not all bad," Bettman said about participating in the Olympics. "If you're a sports fan, it is really cool when you see the best-on-best for hockey at the Olympics. The problem is we disappear when football is done and there is no baseball. It is just basketball and us, and we're about to hit the stretch run of the season and the season is building in intensity and we disappear for two-plus weeks.

"I haven't made up my own mind. We haven't made a decision. It is a balancing act. Part of it depends on how accommodating the (International Olympic Committee) and the local organizing committee and the IIHF are in terms of the arrangements we need to do it. Even under the best of circumstances, it is tough."

Bettman was interviewed at the sports management conference about a variety of topics by Gord Miller of TSN. One of the topics, both during the formal session and in a scrum with reporters after the session, was expansion. There have been numerous reports in the past several months about potential expansion locations. Most recently, Las Vegas has been mentioned extensively in reports.

Bettman stated on several occasions Monday that there is interest in expansion from people outside the league, but the NHL is not currently pursuing the idea. He said having 16 teams in one conference and 14 in the other is not ideal, but expanding or making important business decisions based on symmetry is not a good idea.

"By some people there is (an appetite for expansion), from the people who are expressing interest (to us) on a regular basis," Bettman said. "We're coming off a series of our best years ever. When I say best years, I mean the game, the business of the game, attendance, ratings, revenues, everything. We've never had more stable ownership. Franchises have never been healthier. What happens is people say, 'Gee, I'd like to own a team and I'd maybe be interested in the city, so we hear from places like Seattle, like Quebec City, like Kansas City, like Las Vegas.

"And we're listening. That hasn't changed since I started answering these questions a year ago. We're listening. Are we entering a formal expansion process? No."

After Bettman's interview with Miller, members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask Bettman questions. One was about the placement of advertisements on jerseys. A few NHL teams have ads on practice jerseys, but the league has stayed away from placing them on gear used in games to this point.

"I don't love the trend. It is not something we want to run off and do," Bettman said. "If everybody is doing it and it is a boatload of money, then you have to at least consider it. We're not actively pursuing it because I think we have the best sweaters in all of sports, we have history, we have tradition, and I don't think that is a trend that is terrific for people to embrace. It may become an inevitable fact of life, we'll have to be dragged, we won't be initiating."

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