Jonathan Toews (Photo by Robert Beck /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Thanks to the World Cup, the level of harmony between the NHL and NHL Players' Association has never been higher. We can only hope that leads to an agreement on future Olympic participation.
The World Cash Grab of Hockey™ has brought the NHL and its players’ association together like never before. That much was evident on Wednesday afternoon when NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly appeared together and were so much in lockstep that there were reports they left the room arm-in-arm whistling the same show tune.
Which is great if you’re a big fan of peace and harmony between the players and their owners. With six more years remaining in the collective bargaining agreement, there must be a certain amount of resignation to their situation. But anyone looking for Fehr to show his teeth the way he did to Major League Baseball must be disappointed.
Take the Dennis Wideman situation, for example. Wideman was suspended for 20 games for abuse of an official in a game that was played 37 days ago, a decision he has appealed. Because of unavoidable delays and schedule conflicts, a final decision from arbitrator James Oldham is not expected until next Monday (March 7) at the earliest. Wideman will have missed 17 of the 20 games by that point, which means both he and the Flames will have been severely punished regardless of the decision. There was not enough time to submit final arguments last Friday, so Oldham is receiving written submissions by this Friday and will take the weekend to come to a decision.
You’d think the PA would be outraged about this, no? But when asked about a process that keeps Wideman out of games while his case is under appeal, Fehr responded with, “Doing it right, most of the time is doing it fast. In a perfect world I might suggest otherwise, but this is the system that we bargained.”
So there you have it. The harmony and good feelings engendered by the World Cup are reverberating. Both sides expressed they’re wildly excited about the prospects of the tournament, with Fehr going so far as to say it will be known as the pre-eminent world hockey event in the next 12 to 16 years, which suggests this is a long-term project. Both sides have committed to another tournament in 2020 and are talking about the prospect of moving games out of Toronto.
We know that there will be at least another one of these, probably a lot more based on the revenues it will generate. What we still don’t know is whether or not this will impact Olympic participation in the future. Fehr said that decision is usually broached after the previous Summer Games, which means nothing will be addressed until after the Rio Games this summer and this World Cup. Both sides agree that participation in the World Cup does not preclude playing in the Olympics, that both events are being treated as entirely separate entities.
We do know the players want to be involved, but there’s no sense the league has changed its stance about wanting to stay away. “I can tell you how we have approached it with the players and it’s really very simple,” Fehr said. “ ‘Here are the advantages or possible advantages of doing a World Cup and other kinds of events, including the Olympics and so on. The disadvantage is that every extra game you play does something – it compresses the schedule, it lengthens the schedule, it is additionally taxing on the players.’ It’s up to the players to say to me, ‘No, we think this one is a step too far.’ And I’m going to keep asking them to make sure they tell me, but so far we’re not getting any pushback on it.”
“I think I would echo that,” Daly said. “This really is the players’ choice. At this point, everything we get from the players’ association and the players generally is they love representing their countries, they love best on best, they love international tournaments. So that’s kind of the status quo right now.”
So there’s still hope for the Olympics yet. We can only hope that this trumped-up competition creates so much goodwill between the two sides that it will lead to the NHL coming around to the players’ way of thinking.