The flow of star players to European teams during the NHL lockout could distort national competitions, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said Thursday
Rene Fasel told The Associated Press that he balanced the increased attention for European hockey against potential damage to the integrity of leagues, especially if players return to North America midseason.
"It's questionable how fair it is to the others (teams) and the whole league system," Fasel said by telephone from Tokyo, where the governing body has its congress next week.
"The integrity of the game is, for us, something very important. It's not just business," the world hockey leader said. "We play the game for the hockey fans, but sport should always be No. 1. Sport should also be about fairness to everybody."
Since the lockout started on Sunday, players have turned to Europe to find playing time and salaries until the stalemate between the league and NHL players' union is resolved.
Fasel said it was good for fans to see stars come home, including two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin to Russian club Dynamo Moscow and New York Islanders captain Mark Streit with Switzerland's best-supported club, Bern.
"That is very positive, there's no doubt," said Fasel, a former Swiss league referee. "Mark Streit never played in Switzerland when he was a junior. Now he can come back and play for a top team as a big star — that's a great story."
Still, Fasel acknowledged mixed feelings.
"You have to pay the insurance (for salaries) and we know most of the clubs have troubles with their budgets, so they should be careful," he said. "There are some teams in Switzerland that will never be able to pay half a million and more to hire these guys."
Fasel said wealthy benefactors would help clubs in some cases "as a present to the fans."
Swiss club Davos has been able to attract San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton and New York Rangers winger Rick Nash. Both played for the Alpine town team during the 2004-05 lockout.
The players' return should boost interest in Davos. Officials there and in neighbouring St. Moritz will ask local voters in March to support their effort to bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Just 17 months before the 2014 Sochi Games, NHL players are not certain to compete in the two-week tournament in Russia run by the IIHF.
"Our door is wide open," said Fasel, an IOC board member who is unopposed to extend his 18-year IIHF presidency in Japan next week. "We are planning as if they will be there. If they are not coming, we are going to play hockey anyway."