CALGARY - No decision is coming any time soon on the future participation of NHL players in the Olympic hockey tournament, but the issue will require extensive discussions between the league and the NHL Players' Association, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
There is no agreement in place for the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia and Bettman told reporters in Calgary on Thursday that the league isn't leaning one way or another.
"Every time I discuss the pluses and minuses and I articulate what the minuses are people say, 'oh, well they've made up their mind - they're not going,"' Bettman said.
"It's difficult for any business, any league, to shut down for two weeks with the attendant loss of attention and everything that flows from it and there are competitive issues," he added.
"Our teams send varying amounts of players to the Olympics, and so a team that sends eight or nine players may come back a little more tired and banged up than an NHL team that sends none or one or two."
Bettman said a decision doesn't have to be made right away, and he expects heated debate with the players.
"I know the players are passionate about representing their countries - we have a long history as a sport in international competition and that's something that's important to the players. But we have to decide on balance, 'is it worth it?" he asked.
In addition to the problems of shutting down the league for two weeks, Bettman repeated earlier comments about the NHL basically getting enough bang for its buck in terms of publicity during the event.
"In some places, the benefits are greater for the Olympic participation than others. When you're in Vancouver or Salt Lake City and you're in North American time zones and you're getting that type of coverage, then you are getting coverage that may be commensurate with shutting down," Bettman said.
"When you're half way around the world maybe the coverage isn't as great. The time zone in Sochi, Russia for example is 10 hours ahead of the mountain time zone," said Bettman, noting the games will be played when it is in the middle of the night in North America.
"Is it worth it? I don't have an answer to it yet."
Bettman said there is little to report on efforts to sell the Phoenix Coyotes. The NHL took over ownership of the club when it went into bankruptcy and is still looking for a new owner.
"There isn't a hard and fast deadline but it's something we anticipate accomplishing before the end of the season," said Bettman, who admitted there isn't a contingency plan in place if a local buyer can't be found.
Earlier, he told a business audience at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that an option does not include relocating the team to Canada.
"Despite what I might have had to do last summer - we're not in the business of owning franchises," Bettman said. "Will there be more teams in Canada? The answer is I hope so at some point. I don't like franchise relocation - I never have," he said.
"Did we fail in Quebec City and Winnipeg? Yes. When people say to me, 'you're going to so much trouble to save Phoenix, why didn't you do that in Winnipeg and Quebec City?' We tried very hard to make it work," Bettman said.
"There was no one, despite our best efforts to find someone who wanted to own teams, in those two markets."
Bettman said there are a number of Canadian locations that could eventually end up with an NHL franchise, including southern Ontario. He has had discussions with interested parties in Winnipeg and Quebec City, but as of now, he said, it's not going to happen.
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