Like Russia’s star Alex Ovechkin, the International Ice Hockey Federation thinks NHL players need not miss the 2018 Winter Olympics — though team owners likely now need a “game-changer” offer on the table.
“We are continuing to try to find solutions,” the governing body’s general secretary Horst Lichtner told The Associated Press on Tuesday, after the NHL said it would not take part in the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Lichtner spent much of the day in talks with IOC officials and winter sports leaders about the NHL’s announcement late Monday. The league ended negotiations aimed at ensuring it would shut down for the Olympic period in February and let its superstars play in South Korea.
NHL is bluffing?
Ovechkin said Tuesday he would play at the games anyway, suggesting the NHL was bluffing.
Lichtner also said the door is not closed, though he acknowledged that the Switzerland-based IIHF must make a better offer.
“Then we can re-open the discussion, maybe not for ever but to come back with some so-called game changers to the (NHL team) owners which would then probably help to find a better decision than we have now,” he said.
The IIHF had already agreed to meet players’ travel and insurance costs when the IOC ended its long-time commitment to pay. The NHL sought more concessions, but the IOC would not concede a share of marketing rights to a commercial league.
Hockey body focused on 5-year plan
Lichtner said the IIHF was focused on a five-year plan for the sport in Asia, leading up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games in the coveted Chinese market.
“We have a strategy and that would of course be easier and much nicer if this is with the NHL than without,” the German official said of a plan that includes the Russia-based KHL.
A Chinese delegation is due to attend the annual world championships, staged in May in France and Germany.
Though a two-Olympic deal was part of recent NHL talks, Lichtner did not rule out finding a separate solution to the Beijing Olympics.
“I don’t think we should predict now what will happen until 2022,” he said. “We will always try to do the best for ice hockey — and this is put the best players on the ice and let them play, because they want it.”
Ovechkin plans to play for country
That includes Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals star who said Tuesday that “I’m pretty sure everything is going to be fine.”
“It’s my country,” Ovechkin said in Toronto. “It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. Somebody going to tell me I don’t go. I don’t care, I just go.”
The IIHF’s Lichtner predicted that others players could follow.
“I actually think there will be some more Ovechkins in this world who want to use the Olympic stage to show their skills,” Lichtner said.