Will 2014 debate be CBA bargaining chip?
TORONTO -- Many hockey observers believe Olympic participation will be a bargaining chip that will be played by the league when the next collective-bargaining agreement is negotiated sometime before the end of the 2011-12 season.
And why not? The league knows players are wildly supportive of the Olympics (95 percent of players support continued participation in the Olympics). Would they be willing to give up something during the next series of talks in order to continue playing in the Olympics?
A number of hockey figures, including Team USA silver medalist Jamie Langenbrunner, say they think the Olympic issue shouldn't be a bargaining chip, that it's bigger than that. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke echoed those sentiments.
And there is a mechanism to make a decision on the Olympics outside the traditional bargaining dynamic should both the NHL Players' Association and league agree to it. Not that anyone is expecting that to happen.
"Should this issue be something that the players are penalized for? Should they be penalized for wanting to do something that in their estimation is great for the game and helps grow the game? I think that would be a little bit unfair," Mike Ouellet, chief of business affairs for the NHLPA, told ESPN.com Wednesday. "Is it inconceivable that the players are asked to give up something up for? It's not inconceivable, but it's probably inappropriate."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly insisted the Olympics aren't viewed by the league as a bargaining chip.
"That's not really the case," he said. "Because all international competition is something that can be separated from the collective-bargaining process, because if we jointly believe it's good for the game, it's good for everybody, right?"
And then there's TV ...
One of the issues that will be crucial to the NHL's decision on whether to attend the 2014 Games will be broadcasting.
It is believed broadcasters are preparing a two-tiered bid for the IOC, one that includes NHL players, and a second and presumably lower bid that does not include the NHL.
For NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the issue of how the Games will be carried will be a significant issue.
"How we're going to be carried, how we're going to be promoted is obviously something that's important if we're going to disappear for the better part of two weeks, if not longer," he said. "We need to make sure that it's worth it, particularly if you're in a place where the time zone puts you eight hours ahead of the east coast of North America, which means our games over there in Sochi would be played between four in the morning and two in the afternoon.
"If our games are on at four in the morning, I think it would be a long stretch for anybody to think it would be a good idea to shut down for the better part of two weeks to get that kind of treatment. We need to know more about everything that's going to effect how these games are played so that we can make an intelligent decision."
And then there's the World Cup ...
The most engaging moments Wednesday came during a discussion about what to do with the World Cup of Hockey, the red-headed stepchild of international tournaments.
An offspring of the old Canada Cup tournaments, the World Cup of Hockey first surfaced in 1996 with a classic final between Canada and the United States, won by the Americans. The tournament went dormant after the NHL start participating in the Olympics and resurfaced in 2004 on the eve of the lockout. There hasn't been another, although the NHLPA would like to see the tournament revived and played in February. Former NHLPA executive member and NHL netminder Glenn Healy supported that idea, but it was met with stern opposition from Burke.
"I have no interest in that," Burke said, predicting the board of governors would never support the idea of shutting down the league for the tournament. "This poses massive problems for NHL teams and now you want to do it every second year?"
Healy quickly shot back and said they could move the tournament to April and hold it in Toronto, the assumption being that the Leafs won't be in the playoffs. Ouch.
As for the World Cup of Hockey, Daly seemed surprised by the idea of a tournament in 2012.
"To be honest, I don't know where that came from, a World Cup in 2012," Daly said. "We haven't had any discussions with the PA about that."