When Gary Bettman tries to squeeze something out of the International Olympic Committee in exchange for the NHL's participation in the 2014 Winter Games, he will have Bob Nicholson and Hockey Canada backing him up.
"They aren't just an individual, they are giving an asset that really helps drive the Winter Olympic Games," Nicholson, the president of Hockey Canada, said Thursday about Bettman and the NHL. "The Winter Olympic Games are successful but let's not kid ourselves, a lot of that is because NHL players are there."
When the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver ended in a smash hit for hockey, so did the agreement between the IOC, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association. The players want another agreement and compensation for the owners is probably not a deal-breaker for them.
But in this case, what is good for the owners is definitely good for the players.
Nicholson said there are "a number of issues" facing Bettman, the NHL commissioner, and the owners when it comes to the Olympics. The biggest one, according to Nicholson, is not a simple cash payment to the NHL in exchange for shutting down its season for two weeks and exposing its players to the risk of injuries.
What would really go a long way toward getting the NHL owners to participate in the Sochi Games is "better TV access" before, during and after the Games. "There is a better way they can get promotion for their NHL teams," Nicholson said.
One of the biggest complaints Bettman says he gets from the owners is that participating in the Olympics does not help them sell any tickets for their own teams. It doesn't help when those teams cannot use any television footage of their stars' exploits in the Games.
No television station in Pittsburgh, for example, can use a shot of Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal in Vancouver for Canada. Nor can the Penguins show it on their scoreboard video screen. To do so would cost more money that it is worth.
The NHL also gets no extra access to its players during the Olympics for its own media, such as NHL.com and the NHL Network. That holds true for the union, as well, which operates its own website.
Another thing that bothers the NHL bosses is that they have no say in how the Olympic tournament is operated.
Granted, the benefits of showing a bunch of Americans in Pittsburgh the goal that cost their country a gold medal are dubious. However, there are lots of other Olympic moments that would go over well with fans in the United States and Canada, too, if only the teams had better access to them. All of them could be used to promote the players, the team and the league.
Those highlights could also help the players in their individual promotion efforts, which is why they should be standing with the NHL on this. And they just might in a couple of years when it gets down to the crunch, even if Olympic participation is part of the negotiations between the players and owners in 2012 for a new collective agreement.
The NHL and the NHLPA have worked together to do a little arm-twisting with the IOC for things like the athletes' accommodation and tickets for families. Once Donald Fehr is confirmed as the new executive director of the NHLPA, this could become one of the items on his to-do list.
Nicholson thinks the IOC will find that if it gives the NHL a little more it will get a little more, too.
"If the IOC would work in partnership with those groups, I think they would get more exposure," he said. "And it's not going to cut down on their revenues. There are television negotiations that go on with the IOC. There other manners in which the NHL could be compensated."
Nicholson was in Toronto on Thursday to announce a partnership between Hockey Canada and Lowe's Home Improvement. The hardware chain is donating $500,000 over five years to refurbish hockey arenas across Canada.Report Typo/Error