Wednesday, January 17News That Matters

Surprise, surprise: NHL won't commit to Winter Olympics return for 2022 Games


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It could be a while before the NHL finds itself back in the Olympics.
USATSI

The hockey world is watching in awe as the World Juniors reignite international competition on ice, and that hockey world includes the NHL.

The league has its own schedule to keep up with, especially considering the 2018 Winter Classic is right around the corner. But Bill Daly, the league’s deputy commissioner, found time to catch this week’s showdown between Canada and Team USA, the youth tournament’s reigning champion. He even found time, the AP noted, to discuss it while sitting next to Horst Lichtner, general secretary for the International Ice Hockey Federation.

As much as Daly might have enjoyed the cross-cultural clash of the World Juniors, or even talking about it with a man whose job literally promotes hockey on an international stage, the NHL executive never came close to confirming his own league’s interest in an equally global competition — the Winter Olympics.

Until February’s PyeongChang Games are over, Daly and the NHL won’t even consider discussing its plans for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, and even then, the prospects of a return could be slim. That’s what Daly told Lichtner, per the AP, after the IIHF secretary asked when the NHL might be ready to talk about future Olympic participation: “Certainly not any time before PyeongChang.”

Now, on the surface, any organization — even one named the NHL — might have good reason to hold off on Olympic plans until after the 2018 Winter Games unfold. PyeongChang, after all, has been under fire for months as a result of reportedly “stagnant” ticket sales and “very low” tourist interest from tensions involving neighboring North Korea. There’s also sure to be question marks involving Russia’s participation beyond 2018 with the country outright banned from the Games and still reeling from its widespread and allegedly state-backed doping scandal.

But there is also plenty of reason to believe the NHL just doesn’t want to go to the Olympics in the first place.

Just take Daly’s additional comments about the potential for a return in 2022: “Obviously, some of the logistical difficulties we have with South Korea will be the same in China. But maybe there are some opportunities in China that aren’t in South Korea.”

Sure sounds like a ringing endorsement of Beijing, doesn’t it?

Previous reports suggested that maybe the NHL did, in fact, have its sights set on an Olympics comeback in China after talking up its preseason venture in the country. But even that shred of hope for international fans lasted all but a few days. Commissioner Gary Bettman went on record the same week in saying “it’s hard to envision” the NHL ever — repeat: ever — participating in future Olympics that don’t take place in North America.

The league’s actions have conveyed a similar standoff with the Games. It never went above and beyond to emphasize geographical concerns when it very publicly, sternly and repeatedly refused to permit its players to attend the 2018 Olympics earlier this year, for one. And even if the NHL’s chief concerns regarding Olympic participation centered on other things like injury risks and schedule interruptions, it’s not as if the league has made any habit out of getting its most marketable talent into the arms of a national — let alone international — audience. (How else does its February broadcast schedule “go dark” on NBC, and how does Connor McDavid against the defending Stanley Cup champions not make it onto TV early in the season?)

Maybe Daly and the NHL are comfortable watching the World Juniors and perhaps even answering a question or two about the Olympics — an immensely grander but comparably widespread attraction — while they do it.

Just don’t count on them to actually go to the Winter Games, let alone commit to them, anytime soon.

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