Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Updated: February 20, 3:25 AM ET
Bettman, Goodenow debate Games, new CBA
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Commissioner Gary Bettman isn't ready to commit the NHL to a third shutdown for the 2006 Olympics.
Bettman, in Utah to watch his league's best players compete for gold, said the NHL will evaluate the public's reaction to the Salt Lake City Games and the players' opinions before formulating the NHL's strategy for the next games in Turin, Italy.
"While this has been so far an excellent experience, I don't know what the future is going to hold," Bettman said. "We're going to have to sit back and digest what happens here a little bit."
Bettman and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow insisted their decision on 2006 wouldn't be based on the results of this week's games. There has been speculation that a gold-medal victory by the United States or Canada would be necessary to persuade NHL owners to sacrifice two weeks of the season.
"Players want to play in the Olympics, there's no question about it," Goodenow said. "It's just a matter of finding a way to mesh the various interests together in a way that works."
Bettman said the league wouldn't consider shutting its doors for a longer period to allow players to participate in the first week of games, when preliminary games are played.
Many players from qualifying nations were forced to fly in and out of Salt Lake City. Others, most notably Latvian goalie Arturs Irbe of Carolina, were prevented from leaving their teams by the NHL.
Bettman said the burden for helping the players from qualifying nations rests on the International Ice Hockey Federation, which structures the tournament. If the qualifying were held during the summer, or if the tournament were shorter, the problem could be solved.
"The IIHF has a hockey tournament that lasts 16 days," Bettman said. "It's the only competition that goes the entire length of the Olympics. There's a certain momentum to our season, and we aren't prepared to break that momentum any more than we already are."
While Bettman watches the games this week, he also plans to observe the international game's rule variations in hopes of finding innovations for the North American game.
The variation most closely drawing his interest is the quick faceoff, in which teams get just 15 seconds between a stoppage of play and the dropping of the puck. The possibility of adding the rule to NHL play will be discussed at a league meeting in March.
"I think it could probably shave eight to 10 minutes off our games," Bettman said.
Whether or not the NHL returns to the Olympics in four years, plans already are in the works for another World Cup tournament in 2004, IIHF president Rene Fasel said. Though specific dates and the location still are being worked out, the tournament would begin in August and end before mid-September, when NHL training camps open.
Instead of wading into the verbal war that's begun in the last few days, Fasel and Bettman dismissed Team Canada executive director Wayne Gretzky's comments on Monday that the rest of the world hated the Canadians and couldn't wait to see them fail.
"Nonsense. That is absurd," Fasel said. "When you go to Canada, you feel hockey. This is why Canada is under such great pressure."