Panellists at the world hockey summit agreed that the Vancouver Olympics produced some magical moments.
Whether that can be duplicated in the men's hockey tournament at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia is very much up in the air. The issue of NHL player participation at future Olympic Games was a hot topic during the summit's early session Wednesday at a downtown Toronto hotel.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the Olympics is a "mixed bag" for the league.
During a question-and-answer session at the world hockey summit, the commissioner said the league is not under any pressure to make a decision about the 2014 Games in Russia.
The NHL has been sending players to the Olympics since 1998.
"We haven't made a decision," Bettman said. "The Olympics can be terrific, as they were in Vancouver, and they can be not-so-terrific, as we've had in some other experiences."
Bettman listed a number of drawbacks for 2014, including concerns over when the games would be shown on North American television, given the time difference from Russia. He also cited concerns over access NHL general managers have to their players during the Olympics, and the disruption to the NHL's regular season schedule.
"First and foremost, we're accountable to our fans," Bettman said, adding the decision has to be made jointly with the NHL Players' Association. And it may surprise you to know that on all the research we've done over the years, it's a mixed bag among the fans as to whether or not they want us to participate in the Olympics."
Lines of communication open
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said the lines of communication with the NHL are open.
"It's not a control thing, it's just a partnership in working together," Fasel said. "I'm ready to do so. This is not a problem. It's not a question of power."
There are a number of issues when it comes to the subject of NHL player participation in Sochi. The league would need to shut down for a few weeks, injuries are always a concern and players would be more fatigued than usual due to travel issues.
There's also the question of finances. While the game is showcased on the biggest stage possible, the NHL doesn't directly reap the financial rewards even though many of its players are on the ice.
The Olympics will be a key topic when the union and league start talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires at the end of the 2011-2012 season.
"Personally I don't think it's a thing that should be bargained in the CBA," said Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "I think it's bigger than that."
The threat of passing on the event in four years dominated the second day of the four-day summit in Toronto. The afternoon session had been scheduled for "establishing a long-term global event agenda."
"Even in nightmare, I cannot imagine the NHL will go this way," Alexander Medvedev, president of Russia's Continental Hockey League (KHL)
Burke favours Olympics
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said he wants to go to the Olympics, but not unconditionally.
"None of the other four major leagues in North America shut their doors down for the benefit of an international competition," Burke said. "They do it in the off-season. I've said this before: Move hockey to the Summer Olympics, I'd vote for that."
Panellists also discussed officiating and accessibility at the Olympics, rink size comparison and schedule issues. Other panellists included Vancouver Games chief organizer John Furlong, International Olympic Committee director Timo Lumme and Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Later Wednesday, the sport's long-term global event agenda will be discussed. Burke, Medvedev, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly scout, scout Anders Hedberg and broadcasters Glenn Healy and Paul Romanuk.will be some of the panellists.
Mike Ouellet, chief of business affairs with the NHL Players' Association, was also part of the panel. He cited a two-year-old union survey which revealed 95 per cent of NHL players were in favour of continuing at the Olympics beyond the Vancouver Games.
But he also said the issue could not be used for leverage during collective bargaining sessions with the NHL.
"The players have never admitted that they're going to be giving anything up in order to go and play the Games," Ouellet said. "I think people should recognize it won't be a huge bone of contention, and it won't be used as a bargaining chip against the players."
The four-day summit wraps up Thursday.