TAMPA — NHL participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics remains a work in progress, and time is running short to address issues concerning the League.
The NHL will release the 2021-22 schedule between the end of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and the 2021 NHL Draft on July 23-24.
“We don’t know (if the NHL is going to Beijing) as of right now, and that’s causing us, in addition to consternation, a fair number of issues relative to getting next season up and running,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday during his annual press conference before Game 1 of the Cup Final. “It’s reaching the point that we’re getting concerned about the impact on the season because of the uncertainty.”
The NHL participated in five Winter Games from 1998-2014 but did not go to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The League’s position has been that Olympic participation disrupts the NHL season, particularly when the Games are not held in North America.
But last year, when the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association extended the collective bargaining agreement through 2025-26, they agreed to go to the Olympics if they could reach an agreement with the International Olympic Committee.
“It’s still very much a work in progress,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “All parties are engaged. You know what the League’s traditional and historical position has been on the Olympics. We remain of that view, and in fact, with the future Games in Beijing and the continued uncertainty with the virus and the Games being halfway around the world, (this is) not necessarily an ideal Games to elect to go to.
“Having said that, we negotiated in good faith with the Players’ Association last summer. We agreed that if the conditions were right and we could reach agreement on all the material issues that we would commit and support going to the Olympics, and that remains our position.
“We’ve deferred to the Players’ Association to try to work through those issues, and that continues, as I said, to be a work in progress. But as [Commissioner Bettman] alluded to, time is running very short, so hopefully we’ll have some resolution soon.”
Commissioner Bettman and Daly addressed several other issues, including officiating.
“Let’s be clear: Our officials are not only the best hockey officials in the world, they are the best officials in any sport,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Our officials have the hardest game to officiate, because no sport comes close to matching the speed and split-second reaction time required to make or not make hundreds of calls in real time.
“Yes, our officials miss calls. Not as many as some suggest, but they occasionally miss calls. Just as coaches and players make mistakes, officials do on occasion as well. We don’t like it when it happens. In fact, we hate it. But it is the nature of the human element of calling our game.”
Commissioner Bettman said the NHL has been and will continue to be at the forefront of adding technology to assist officials, who are constantly coached, critiqued and held accountable. He said officials are implored to maintain the standard from the first game of the regular season to the last game of the Cup Final, but the style of play differs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and affects how officiating is perceived.
“Would we prefer that perfection is achieved? Of course. Absolutely,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Is it possible? Of course not. But it is our goal to continue to the effort to get as close to perfection as possible, and we will continue to recruit, train, educate, evaluate and make this part of the game the best that it can be.”
Commissioner Bettman said the NHL learned relatively recently of allegations of sexual assault involving the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. Daly said the NHL was informed by a Blackhawks lawyer.
The Athletic reported a former player filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks alleging that he and a teammate were sexually assaulted by former video coach Brad Aldrich and that the team ignored their claims.
Commissioner Bettman said the Blackhawks commissioned an independent investigation by Jenner & Block, a law firm with no connection to the NHL or the Blackhawks.
“Whenever you hear allegations like that, (they) are concerning,” Commissioner Bettman said. “But my first reaction is, ‘Tell me the facts.’ And once we know what the facts are, we’re in a better position to evaluate what may or may not need to be done.”
Asked if individuals or the Blackhawks could face punishment, Commissioner Bettman said, “All options are available if there’s something that warrants punishment, and I think we need to wait and see what the result of the investigation (is) and the litigation that seems to be pending as well.
“What we know is based on what’s public, and that’s why we’re going to be interested to see what the investigation reveals and doesn’t reveal, and so I think everybody needs to not get ahead of themselves. These are allegations that relate to a period of time that’s quite some time ago, and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to piece things together. When we get all the information, we will do what is necessary and appropriate. …
“This is going to be handled appropriately and professionally and done right.”