TAMPA, Fla. — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman cast doubt Monday on whether the league will send its players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, citing safety and logistical concerns as well as a tightening time frame.
“We have real concerns about whether or not it’s sensible to be participating,” Bettman said during his annual pre-Stanley Cup Final session with the media.
“We’re already past the time that we hoped this would be resolved,” he added, in noting the league still intends to release its schedule for next season — with or without an Olympic break — before holding the draft on July 23. “We’ll deal with it, just as we’ve managed to be agile and flexible over the last 15 months. But we’re getting to be on a rather short time frame now because this can’t go on indefinitely.”
Bettman said one of the only reasons the NHL is still in discussions with Olympic officials is because the league made a commitment to make every effort to participate in the 2022 Games as part of extending its collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players’ Association last summer.
The NHL participated in five consecutive Olympics beginning in 1998 before skipping the 2018 Games in South Korea.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly called discussions with Olympic officials a work in progress. The outstanding issues include health questions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, and including COVID-19-related insurance issues.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty and unknowns that we’re trying to grapple with, and that takes time,” Daly said.
Previous issues that led to the NHL balking at competing were health insurance and travel costs, as well as access to marketing rights. The NHL also expressed concern over the benefit of shutting down its regular season for two weeks when the Olympics are held in Asia. Games are played in the early morning hours in North America because of the time difference.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told The Associated Press he hoped a resolution can be reached with the NHL and its players to compete in Beijing. He said the NHL currently has two schedules in place for next season, one featuring an Olympic break and another one not.
“Things are going back and forth, but no stress. We’ll see,” Fasel said by phone. “I cannot speak for the NHL and I just hope they will say they will come. That’s it.”
Bettman confirmed the economic hit the NHL sustained as a result of the pandemic has led to the league altering its approach toward supporting a women’s professional hockey league in North America. Bettman urged the National Women’s Hockey League and Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to bridge their differences first.
“If you’re going to make a go of a new league, you’ve got to have all ducks in a row,” Bettman said. “And our hope is the women’s professional landscape can be more unified going forward.”
That’s a switch from Bettman’s previous stance in which he said the NHL would only step in to support a pro women’s league should the two entities — the NWHL and now-defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League — step aside.
Bettman said the NHL has “been a little distracted” over the past 15 months, in referring to the scheduling and economic challenges raised by the pandemic.
“We are extraordinarily supportive of women’s hockey going forward,” Bettman said. “And at the right time and under the right circumstances we see a role for us to the extent we’re invited.
The NHL pledged to spend $5 million over the next 18 months on diversity and inclusion efforts in a league that remains primarily white and has no Black coaches or general managers. Daly also said a hotline established for players, coaches and staff to report racist behavior after Akim Aliu shared his story about former coach Bill Peters has been “up and running” for several months.
“Part of the dynamic of introducing a hotline like this is making potential people who want to engage with it comfortable in engaging with it, so that is by definition a process of time,” Daly said. “I do think it’s been well-received.”
The league announced it will hold All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2022, with exact dates to be determined.
The Minnesota Wild will host St. Louis in the 13th Winter Classic at Target Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Twins, on Jan. 1. The Wild had been awarded the 2021 showcase but the schedule was shortened to 56 games and play didn’t begin until late January. The Wild hosted an outdoor game in 2016, against Chicago at the University of Minnesota’s football stadium.
The NHL Stadium Series will see Nashville host Tampa Bay on Feb. 26 at Nissan Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.