The Great One spoke after the Board of Governors meeting on Friday in Palm Beach, even as the NHL’s decision over participation in the events in 2018 in South Korea hangs precariously in the balance.
“I happen to love everything about the Olympic Games,” said Gretzky. “I think it’s a positive, but I’m not the only guy that has say in this.”
The NHL has participated in the last five Olympic events, but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced on Thursday that there was “strong negative sentiment” among the owners pertaining to participation in the upcoming Games.
The Board of Governors meetings in Palm Beach didn’t solve anything, either, and nobody seems to know what the next step will be.
The fans seem generally in favour of Olympic participation, as do most of the players. Alex Ovechkin has been among the most vocal, claiming that he’ll be at the Olympics no matter what.
The owners, meanwhile, see the business end of things. And Bettman is willing to go whatever direction the wind may blow, as his opinions on the South Korean Games haven’t exactly been adamant. He does see more benefit in the 2022 Olympics in China, but promoting participation in those Games while denying participation in the 2018 Games won’t do him or his league any favours.
Bettman’s been wheeling and dealing with respect to Olympic participation for a while now, tabling an offer to extend the current CBA in exchange for a trip to the Games. Unfortunately, the NHLPA rejected the idea.
The deal could’ve sent a message to the owners that the road to negotiation would be a little easier down the road, thereby alleviating some fiscal concerns. And it could’ve sent a message to the players by asserting that the Olympics were a go.
When it came down to the nuts and bolts of it, the players weren’t swayed by the notion of blowing by the current CBA. There are some issues they want hammered out in the next round of negotiations, like the escrow clause. The owners aren’t exactly attached to the current CBA either, with difficulties with contract lengths still a concern.
So, for the time being, things have stalled.
For his part, Gretzky is trying to see both sides. The owners’ concerns are real, but so is the notion of Olympic participation yielding benefits for the game and the players.
“I think that everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Gretzky said. “The one thing about our game that’s really good is the commissioner is always looking for input from ownership to general managers, coaches, players. Everybody’s always trying to make the game better, and he’s very open to everybody’s opinion…I like the Olympic Games. Does that mean the NHL’s going to go? I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t tell you.”