2018 Olympics still in doubt, bye week could be scrapped: Bettman

Gary Bettman’s voice was muffled and he was coughing profusely,

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Gary Bettman’s voice was muffled and he was coughing profusely, but the tone of the NHL commissioner with regard to the 2018 Olympics remained the same.

“There’s absolutely nothing new,” said Bettman, seemingly under the weather on Wednesday morning at the conclusion of the GM meetings. “And I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there’s somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”

Bettman said no meetings were scheduled with either the International Ice Hockey Federation or the International Olympic Committee and said the NHL was focused presently on an 2017-18 schedule that didn’t include the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but would feature a revamped bye week period.

“Unless something changes we’re not going,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “We’ve said that consistently for three months so there’s nothing new about that.”

If still quite dark on the likelihood of players attending in 2018, Daly reiterated more optimism among owners on the Beijing Games in 2022. The appeal of showcasing the NHL product on the gigantic Chinese stage seems to hold more appeal to clubs who are otherwise down on the tangible benefits of attending an Olympic Games outside of North America.

“It’s not the exact same equation in 2022,” Daly said. “Certainly there’s a little more business opportunity in the Chinese Games, (but) it creates the same disruption (to the season).”

Bettman said discussions were ongoing about holding games in China, reportedly for next season.

It’s uncertain what might shift the owners toward supporting attendance in 2018. Time would seem to be running short on a decision, though approval for the 2014 Games in Sochi didn’t arrive until the summer of 2013.

Daly said it was up to the IOC and IIHF to decide when a final decision was required.

If players don’t attend the Pyeongchang Olympics the bye week will proceed next year, but in a different manner from this season. Instead of wide-ranging five-day periods of time off — some in December, others in January and February — the league is proposing an arrangement which would see half the league off for one bye week (not conference-specific) with the other half of teams to follow afterward.

“We’re very concerned about it and that’s why we’ll try it in another format and if that doesn’t work I think our view will be its had its day and that was enough,” Bettman said.

Instituted this season, the bye week was the NHLPA’s return on agreement to the three-on-three format for the 2016 all-star game.

The proposed concept, which requires NHL Players’ Association approval, would allow the league to keep its product flowing without interruption and eliminate potential unfairness of the current system. Teams haven’t fared well generally in their exit from the bye week and the vast difference in timing of the rest period has caused concern.

Coaches and managers also haven’t been thrilled with the effect its had on the schedule, compressing it while further limiting opportunity for practice.

“There was lots of talk about scrapping it altogether,” Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said.

The GMs did arrive at one slight tweak to the rules to recommend to the competition committee — timeouts will no longer be permitted following an icing call.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said the timeout was initially introduced as an end-of-game strategy session, evolving more recently into an opportunity for rest after the puck was iced.

“We don’t see it much anymore, so let’s make sure it just goes out of the way,” Cheveldayoff said.

Bettman said the hotly debated coach’s challenge was working as expected, though there was agreement that stricter timing was required from coaches on deciding whether to challenge or not, especially on offside rulings. The commissioner also observed that the updated concussion protocol — which allows trained spotters to have players removed from game action if they exhibit concussion symptoms — was proceeding as intended.

GMs were told that the cap might remain close to flat from the current position of US$73 million, Daly noting a potential jump of $2.5-3 million.

Bettman also addressed the Arizona Coyotes’ uneasy situation, stating that the league was committed to the club remaining in the greater Phoenix area but not in Glendale given current uncertainties with regard to the arena. The Coyotes are on a year-to-year lease with the city on Gila River Arena after a long-term agreement was cancelled in 2015.

“We have not given up on that market,” Bettman said. “But we wanted to make clear that the long-term future and viability of that team, the Coyotes, isn’t going to be in Glendale.”

Bettman sent a letter to Arizona politicians earlier in the week expressing similar concerns as well as the need for a new arena outside Glendale.