IIHF not giving up hope on NHL Olympic participation

SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 18: (L-R) International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel and National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman speak during a press conference on day eleven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Is there still a chance that NHL players could go (with the league’s blessing) to the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang? IIHF president Rene Fasel hasn’t thrown in the towel.

Speaking to German newspaper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, Fasel said that a final decision to go by the NHL must come no later than mid-July. That is, of course, if there’s any further discussions to be had at all. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet said on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday that there’s talk the IIHF would try to get the league to rethink its decision to keep its players home, but the NHL is not backing down from its stance.

“I am ready to swim across the Atlantic if it needs to be,” Fasel told the paper. “But there is a limit I can not cross. And if the NHL decides not to come, then so be it.”

Fasel noted that the NHL takes up a few hundred hotel rooms for Olympics and that the location in Korea does not have extra capacity. “We can only release these capacities by the end of June, at the latest mid-July,” he said.

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The sticking point in all of this is the IOC’s reverse-course on covering travel and insurance costs for NHL players, something that’s been done since players first started going in 1998. Fasel said he found money to cover those costs, but the league has remained hesitant about shutting down the season in February and wanted increased marketing opportunities and access rights to show highlights from games.

Fasel added that the IOC cannot continue keeping their hands in their money-filled pockets if they want the best athletes at their Games while also taking a shot at NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

“The IOC is at a crossroads. It has to decide where it wants to go. If it wants stars and professionals, it must take over the [technical] costs for it.

“He [Bettman] claims the same rights for the NHL as a TOP (The Olympic Programme) sponsor who pays $100 million (£77 million/€91 million).

“He wants to use the Olympic Rings for the NHL. If the IOC says yes, what do we do with athletics, swimming, gymnastics, skiing, ice skating? Then we would have to grant these rights to all the big sports federations. It is also about the principle.”

Still sounds bleak. But maybe there’s a tiny window of opportunity here where the NHL is waiting until the last minute to see if the IOC will come to its senses.

As Nick Kypreos mentioned during that HNIC segment over the weekend the NHL has yet to announce who will be hosting the 2018 All-Star Game. The last three were revealed well in advance.

Los Angeles (2017) was announced as host a year before the stars descended in La La Land, while Nashville (2016) and Columbus (2015) were officially named hosts more than a year before their respective All-Star Weekends.

The NHL only announced its Olympic decision a month ago, but you figure with all the uncertainty about the league’s potential participation in Korea over the past few years there would be a city waiting in the queue ready to step up as host if there was going to be an All-Star Game next season.

Also, the 2017-18 NHL schedule will likely be released again in late June around the time of the awards show and draft, as has been done in years past. That might be the drop-dead date of all drop-dead dates since teams would be locking in 41 dates on their arena calendars for the upcoming year including those in mid-February.

Like Lloyd Christmas, I still believe there’s a chance here, but time is running out for the IIHF and, more importantly, the IOC to step up and sweeten the deal for the NHL’s owners, if they’re still even interested at all.

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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