The NHL and the NHL Players' Association will meet Thursday and Friday in New York with the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation with the hope of making progress toward an agreement to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Actually, the league and the union have a rather ambitious schedule in mind for this week, as they also plan to discuss NHL realignment and finalize the language in the new collective agreement. At this point, though, it looks like the only item on their agenda expected to get finished is the final version of the collective agreement.
With the Sochi Games only 12 months away, an agreement on NHL participation needs to be done quickly. However, that will be difficult despite the players' willingness to go because of several issues, none of which were helped by IIHF president René Fasel. He took an obvious shot at NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in an interview on CBC television, saying, "I think Gary has no other choice, he has to come to Sochi," and later said a barrier to an agreement might be "ego from some people in North America."
That had even NHLPA executives shaking their heads and should make for an interesting session on Thursday when Bettman sits down with Fasel, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr and representatives from the IOC.
The players may be eager to keep playing in the Olympics but they do agree with the NHL owners, who think they get nothing in return for interrupting their regular-season schedule. They think there needs to be some giving on the part of the IOC and IIHF on several fronts, including access to players' and NHL teams' regular doctors, insurance, a cut of the revenue they bring in and the schedule regarding both Olympic participation and other international competition.
The latter issue concerns Olympic orientation camps and the dormant World Cup of Hockey. The NHL and the players want to make sure the Olympic orientation camps held by each country the summer before the games are shorter and less intense than the week-long affairs in the past. They also want to get an agreement on having the World Cup serve as the major international hockey competition every two years in an Olympic off-year, probably in September.
Realignment remains a hot issue with the owners but the players want to make sure their concerns about excessive travel and equal chances to make the playoffs are met before they give their required permission. One thing different this time around is whatever plan is presented to the NHL governors for their approval will have already been agreed to by the players. Last year, the governors approved a plan only to see it shot down by the players.
"We've been discussing alignment with the union over a period of time since we agreed on the new [collective agreement]," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail message Sunday. "Yes, our final recommendation in terms of approach for next year will be brought to the [governors] for its review and approval."
MLSE NOT A HAPPY PLACE
The executive suite at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., will bear watching in the comings weeks and months as the firing of Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke was not the only recent departure. It seems the media giants BCE Inc., and Rogers Communications Inc., are not hesitating to throw their weight around now that they collectively own 75 per cent of MLSE and occupy four of the six seats on the board of directors.
Also leaving the company in recent months were Robin Brudner, MLSE's executive vice-president, general counsel and corporate secretary, and Patti-Anne Tarlton, vice-president, live entertainment. While she was with MLSE, Brudner was one of the most powerful female sports executives in North America. Sources say neither departure was without friction.
There may be some hard feelings about the size of a bonus. As general counsel, Brudner would have done a lot of work on the $1.3-billion sale to BCE and Rogers and a bonus in excess of $1-million would not have been out of line, according to one insider. Both Brudner, who is taking time out for her family, and Tarlton, who is now with Ticketmaster, declined to comment.
FIVE GAMES TO WATCH
Flyers at Leafs
This is the first game between these teams since the big James van Riemsdyk-Luke Schenn trade. Okay, not exactly Wayne Gretzky returns to Edmonton but the Leafs are the early winners thanks to van Riemsdyk's seven goals. They also need a win to shore up that awful 1-4 home record. Monday, 7 p.m., Sportsnet Ontario, RDS2.
Rangers at Bruins
The last time they met, Rangers winger Marian Gaborik had a hat trick, including the overtime winner on Jan. 23, a win that was supposed to right them after a slow start. It didn't happen and now the Rangers need another win to get moving, only they're 1-3 on the road. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN, MSG, NESN.
Sabres at Senators
There is still some life in this rivalry and the Sabres will be fighting hard to get their increasingly annoyed fans off their backs. Only goaltender Ryan Miller is keeping the Sabres afloat thanks to their poor defensive work, especially on faceoffs. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East.
Senators at Penguins
James Neal and Evgeni Malkin combined to knock off the Senators in their previous meeting by collaborating on a goal in regulation time and then both scoring in the shootout for a 2-1 win. Wednesday, 7 p.m., TSN, RDS.
Sharks at Blackhawks
A nice rivalry in the making here. When they met last week, they were both at the top of the Western Conference and the Blackhawks took a 5-3 decision to remain without a regulation loss. But there were fireworks with Chicago's Duncan Keith piling up the penalty minutes for going after Sharks forward Andrew Desjardins for his head shot on Jamal Mayers. Friday, 8:30 p.m., CSN California, CSN Chicago.