Commissioner Gary Bettman expresses doubt about NHL's participation in 2018 Olympics

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday expressed strong doubt that the league will send players to the 2018 Olympics because of the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to pay transportation and insurance costs for players to participate in the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The league has halted its season to allow players to represent their homelands at the past five Olympics. The IOC paid $14 million toward travel, insurance and accommodations for the 2014 Sochi Games and the International Ice Hockey Federation paid $18 million.

Speaking to reporters before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Bettman said that to continue negotiations with the IOC and IIHF on NHL players’ 2018 participation, “we would expect they’re going to do at least what they’ve done. Because somebody’s going to have to pay it and I don’t think it’s going to be us.”

He added, “For us to have to pay to go to the Olympics based on everything that’s attendant to that, putting aside the fact that we get no access to our players, we don’t get to promote the fact that we’re there, and we have to disrupt our season, as I indicated in my remarks, I don’t see the board wanting to pay for the privilege. And by the way it does cost us money now, just to deal with the things we have to deal with beyond the costs they pick up.”

Olympic participation has long been a thorny issue among members of the NHL’s Board of Governors. Many don’t like to pause their season or risk having their players injured during the Olympic tournament, and the potential benefits of international exposure would be minimal because of the time difference between South Korea and the United States. A decision isn’t likely before the end of this calendar year.

Touching on a wide range of issues, Bettman also said he anticipated having a “more definitive word” on the expansion process after the board meets on June 22 at Las Vegas, site of the league’s awards show. The board will base its decision on a still-undelivered recommendation by the league’s executive committee. Groups from Las Vegas and Quebec City have been identified as the only two candidates for a possible expansion team.

Bettman said the governors could reject expansion entirely, defer it beyond the 2017-18 season — which has been considered the earliest possible date — or agree to admit one or two new teams. In addition, rules for a potential expansion draft have not been agreed on by the league and the players’ association. “We’ve been going through the process in an orderly way. It didn’t matter how long it took,” Bettman said.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said first- and second-year players would be exempt in an expansion draft. It’s also expected that players with a no-trade clause in their contracts could be left exposed in a draft but there are questions about players who have no-move clauses.

The salary cap, which was $71.4 million this season, likely will go up a few million dollars, Bettman said. The amount will become clearer at the board meeting.

Bettman also reaffirmed that former Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who was suspended by the NHL and served time in jail after pleading no-contest to a domestic violence charge, is not eligible to play in the World Cup of Hockey tournament later this year in Toronto. However, Bettman left open the possibility that the Russian hockey federation might challenge that.

As expected, not having Canadian teams in the playoffs has had an adverse impact on the league’s TV ratings in that country. “Obviously, TV ratings are less than they’ve been but that’s no different than looking at TV ratings even in the United States,” Bettman said. “There are no Original Six teams at this stage of the playoffs. Some of the bigger markets have been eliminated. You understand that and you expect it.” However, he said, out-of-market viewing seems to be up.

Ratings for Game 1 are likely to suffer because the telecast conflicts with Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference finals between Golden State and Oklahoma City. The timing seems unfortunate, but Bettman shrugged it off.

“That’s life,” he said. “We all do our schedules very, very far in advance.” Arena and TV issues factor into the choice of dates, but there will be no conflicts on the dates of each league’s final. “We understand what our respective schedules look like,” he said.

In addition, he said no decision has been made on the format for the 2017 All-Star game, which will be played Jan. 29 at Staples Center. This year’s game, in Nashville in January, featured a three-on-three format with teams selected according to their divisions.

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