NEW YORK — With funding now secured by the International Ice Hockey Federation to cover costs, the NHL has reportedly discussed the possibility of green-lighting player participation in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, provided the NHL Players’ Association is willing to extend the duration of the current labour contract.
Asked directly, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr did not dispute a report that the league floated the idea of signing off on NHL participation in South Korea in exchange for the union agreeing to extend the end date of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement by what's believed to be three years.
“There have been some suggestions which could be construed that that discussion would be worth having,” Fehr said. “Obviously, we would discuss that with players. We have begun that process, but we’re a long way from done.”
In the end, representatives from the NHL, IIHF and NHLPA left Wednesday’s meeting saying the sides are no closer to an agreement.
“It’s not big progress,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said. “I’m working very hard. It’s not easy. I mean, I expected it to be a little more easy. Still, I am confident.”
Two recent NHLPA team player representatives expressed a significant amount of doubt to TSN on Wednesday that a deal like the one proposed by the league would be acceptable to the general membership.
Either the NHL or NHLPA can opt out of the current CBA by Sept. 15, 2019 for a potential work stoppage in 2020-21. An extension would push that opt-out date to Sept. 15, 2022.
Brokering prolonged labour peace would benefit both sides, but NHL players are not happy with the current arrangement which calls for 16 per cent of their paycheques to be set aside in escrow to ensure a proper 50/50 revenue split with league owners.
“Clearly, the owners really like the way things are going right now,” one Western Conference player representative said in a text message.
Since at least May, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has insisted the league’s Board of Governors has no interest in “paying for the privilege” to participate in the Olympics.
In fact, Bettman told reporters on Monday that he has asked the International Olympic Committee whether the NHL could skip PyeongChang in 2018 and return for a potentially more lucrative Winter Games in 2022 in Beijing to capitalize on an untapped Chinese market.
Fasel confirmed on Wednesday that he has secured the $10 million required to pay for player contract insurance, transportation and hospitality from outside sources.
With the funding secured, the NHL seemed to push the goalposts back, shifting the conversation to a lack of control and input in the Winter Olympics and other hurdles.
Fasel also confirmed the NHL balked at the IIHF’s collection sources, which would include contributions from individual member federations, such as Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, the Russian Federation, etc.
“That was one of the issues,” Fasel said. “But we need to have the money and that’s important. We will [have it].”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to answer questions after the three-hour meeting inside league headquarters in Manhattan.
“I don’t really have anything to add,” Daly said. “The meeting progressed the way I would anticipated it would progress today. We got a lot of information from the IIHF. …We asked a lot of questions. We all have a lot of work to do with our constituents in terms of the next steps.”
Should the NHLPA decline the NHL’s offer, Fehr declined to say what recourse players have to still participate. Team Russia captain Alex Ovechkin has repeatedly said he will leave the Capitals to play in the 2018 Olympics with or without full league participation. He has previously received support from Washington owner Ted Leonsis.
“When and if the NHL makes a decision one way or the other, I’ll react to it,” Fehr said. “I’m not going to speculate about it.”
While the rhetoric spins, the clock is ticking. The puck drops on the 2018 Olympics with or without players in just 449 days. Fasel vowed to pull it off, but said he was flying back to Zurich without feeling any more optimistic than when he arrived.
“I’m never frustrated,” Fasel said. “I don’t give up. I’m going to continue to work very hard on that. I actually didn’t expect an answer today. I have a lot to do. It’s more than expected, but I will do it.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli