NHL, players differ on frequency of World Cup of Hockey

An Olympic-style hockey tournament every two years? That's an option NHL players would like to explore, but the league isn't keen on it.

An Olympic-style hockey tournament every two years?

That's an option NHL players would like to explore, but the league isn't keen on it. So said league and union officials at a news conference Saturday ahead of on-ice events for the all-star weekend.

The NHL and the Players' Association have a plan in place on future international games and competitions, including the World Cup, more teams and games in Europe, along with continued participation in the Victoria Cup where an NHL team plays the winner of Europe's Champions League.

The NHL will break next season so players can play in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, but what happens after that is what divides the NHL and the players' union.

There is tentative agreement to stage the World Cup of Hockey in September 2011, but NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly has another idea.

"We think some consideration should be made for using the same footprint as the Winter Olympics. You have the Winter Olympics every four years and you could have your World Cup in the intervening two years. [i.e. Vancouver, February 2010, World Cup in February 2012]," said Kelly.

"We think the eyes of the world will be trained more on our sport in February than they would in September, particularly in the United States, and that would make a great deal of sense. That still needs to be discussed with the league and owners. If that does not work out, well, look at September, 2011."

Bettman not keen

It took NHL commissioner Gary Bettman less than a New York minute to shoot down the idea of interrupting the regular NHL season for another competition.

"I would be very skeptical of any suggestion that could be reality that we take a break for the World Cup," said Bettman. "Since I have real issues over breaking for the Olympics, I have no sense of taking a break during the season for the World Cup."

The Vancouver Games marks the fourth time the NHL will shut down to allow for Olympic participation but it might be the last. The 2014 Winter Games are in Russia.

And again, here is where the NHL and NHLPA differ.

"I will tell you that on behalf of the membership, our players support future Olympic participation regardless of where those games are held," said Kelly. "Thirty per cent of our members are from Europe and they take great pride in representing their country and they see it as no greater stage.

"It grows our support around the world."

League, union at odds over support for Olympic tourney

While Bettman said the NHL has not ruled out going to Russia, he was less than enthusiastic about committing to anything past the Vancouver Games.

"There are lots of issues, competitive, logistical issues relative to taking a break during the season," he said. "I think the break is unnatural and I think it disrupts the competitive flow of the season and I think there are competitive issues that flow from that.

"I have concerns about going to the Olympics and it makes harder when it is not in North America."

Olympic participation, like the World Cup, is part of the collective agreement.

Earlier this week, the NHLPA exercised its option to extend the agreement to September, 2011.

The last World Cup was held in September, 2006, and players were locked out by the NHL after the tournament ended.

Player participation in international competitions will be on the table again, and views may change or events used as a bargaining chip in the rounds of collective bargaining.