How will the NHL's Olympic stalemate be broken?
Scott Burnside: Let's start with this. If the NHL was really serious about pulling the pin on the Olympics, it would have done so months ago. If the owners really hate the Olympics as much as Gary Bettman insists they do -- Bettman said during last year's Stanley Cup finals that he's "pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege for disrupting our season" -- they would have instructed the commissioner to call it off. But they haven't. So how about some honesty, which has been sorely missing in all of this? It's not about the money -- if we believe the International Ice Hockey Federation, which has said it has a plan to pony up the $10 million for the expenses, that has been sorted out.
So how about the NHL take a leadership role in this, especially since it appears the league will be headed to China for preseason games next fall? The NHL needs to be the big person in this childish dispute and say, 'We'll take whatever hit we need to take as a league to do the right thing, which is to continue to take part in the Olympics.' It's what the players want. It's what the fans want. And in the end, whether the owners get it or not, it's what the game needs.
Pierre LeBrun: The NHL is waiting for a compelling reason to bring to its owners in order to convince them to go to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The NHL Players' Association feels it shouldn't have to give anything up to go. I agree with both sides. So what's the solution?
Here's an idea a few people have suggested to me over the past few days: What if the players were willing to give assurances they wouldn't opt out of the CBA in 2020 and would instead see the existing deal through to 2022? I think the NHL would potentially welcome that. Would it be enough for owners? Would players even want to pass up a chance to reopen the CBA in 2020, given their disdain for escrow payments and their desire to tweak (or limit) escrow in the next CBA?
I don't know the answer to either of those questions, but it seems to me that the idea of playing out the existing CBA and ensuring labor peace until 2022 could be beneficial to both sides, both in terms of Olympic participation next year as well as the next World Cup of Hockey in September 2020. Maybe I'm being too simplistic, but I think it's worth exploring. After all, both sides negotiated the CBA to 2022 to begin with. Is it that important to either side to reopen it in 2020?
Joe McDonald: I'm not sure why the players wouldn't take the opportunity to opt out of the current CBA. Many, if not all, the players realize they came back too soon when they ratified the current CBA on Jan. 12, 2013, after a four-month lockout. The owners already wanted to extend the CBA past the Sept. 15, 2022, deadline to allow Olympic participation and the players understandably denied it because that scenario would only keep the owners in control.
Since NHL players' participation in the Olympics is at a stalemate because of the owners' insistence that the IOC and the IIHF pay for the expenses, insurance and accommodations -- as they have in the past -- for the Winter Games, maybe it will come down to NBC, the network that owns the broadcast rights, paying the tab in order to have NHL players participate. The Olympics is still a big platform and a way to expose the game to new fans. Asia is a massive market for the league. Now, maybe if the owners were willing to renegotiate the 15 percent escrow that the players pay and don't recoup much of that in the current revenue sharing model, that could be a way to avoid the opt-out clause.
Craig Custance: I'm just glad we didn't have to wait until 2020 to get our CBA talk in! Scott is spot on here. If the owners truly and overwhelmingly didn't want to go to South Korea -- and that was the insinuation at times when topic came up earlier in the season -- this wouldn't still be an issue. They would have pulled the plug. If we remove the politics of the players and the NHL from the equation, this has a chance to be a nice solution for the fans. If the solution is ultimately two years of additional hockey action without the inevitable lockout that is now part of the playbook every time the CBA is negotiated and fans get to see the best players in the world compete in the Olympics, it's a win.
Corey Pronman: If the NHL and NHLPA (particularly the league-side) have proven anything over the past few decades, it's that both sides love trying to get major CBA discussions done peacefully, with each other's interests in mind, not at the last second, and absent any drama.
Rob Vollman: Unfortunately, these matters often come down to dollars and cents. Nobody wants to take the risk of having their star players get injured in the Olympics, but these tournaments can also raise a player's profile, and sometimes help their games reach a whole new level. Besides, why forfeit such a grand stage to rival leagues to showcase their talent? Eventually, after the first few prominent players hold out in order to compete, and after watered-down versions of Team Canada and Team USA get knocked out of medal contention early, the owners will start listening more attentively to otherwise modest concessions from the NHLPA.