NHL, European brass butting heads at Summit

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:25 PM ET

If producing the Playboy calendar caused as much grief and turmoil as this week's proposed global hockey calendar, there might not be much more than bare ankles and elbows to see.

Setting a world agenda for high-level tournaments in the next four years towards the 2014 Olympics, and the impact of the Sochi Games themselves, set off fireworks at Wednesday's Molson Canadian Hockey Summit, with North American NHL brass battling European idealists and sometimes sniping at each other.

When Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke objected to a suggested Global Hockey Week in February to stage the next World Cup, opponent and fellow panelist Glenn Healy shot back "how about April in Toronto?" -- a dig at the Leafs' constant playoff failures.

Continental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev, weary of hearing more NHL woes about shutting down two weeks every four years, reminded that all nations had committed to bringing their best players as far back as 1998 in Nagano.

"This shouldn't be decided twice," Medvedev grumbled during a media briefing. "After Vancouver this year, everyone said: 'What a great event, let's work together.' Now that it's Sochi, everyone is saying: 'We should think this over.' But it (the NHL hiatus) happened three times so far and nothing has happened (to harm its teams)."

That kind of talk fired up Burke and NHL president Gary Bettman, who argued there was plenty to lose if the league wasn't given more say in Sochi than it had in Vancouver.

"We had a perfect storm in Vancouver with the right teams and good TV numbers," Burke conceded, "but we didn't get a thing out of Torino ('06) and Nagano. So we've gone four times in all and got benefit from two of them.

"The Leafs want to go. And I want to go as GM of USA Hockey. But we have teams losing a lot of money who shut their doors at a critical part of the season. So it's not that simple. There's a huge European presence here who don't have to deal with our problems. Ask the Anaheim Ducks if they want to go, how they played after they got back (missing the playoffs)."

Bettman has to think about selling the NHL brand as part of going to the Olympics, which isn't going to be easy "halfway around the world" as he said.

"If we're going to disappear for the better part of two weeks, if not longer, you have to make sure if it's going to be worth it," Bettman said. "Particularly if you're in a place where the time zone puts you ahead eight hours on the east coast of North America, which means our games would be played between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m."

Fixing a calendar was suggested by keynote summit speaker and Winnipeg-born ex-Swiss national coach Ralph Krueger, who also wants to take the World Cup from September to mid-winter every two years between Olympics. He's also pushing for the Victoria Cup, a hockey version of soccer's Champion's League, in which the two NHL Stanley Cup finalists, the KHL champ and a European champion would meet in a September tournament with a guaranteed NHL-Euro final. That would be in addition to the International Ice Hockey Federation's spring jewel, the world championship.

Burke panned the Victoria Cup and is among those GMs wanting the worlds scrapped in Olympic years. He also wants financial compensation for NHL players who go to the Olympics and especially the worlds. That has been dismissed by the IIHF, which says it would send the wrong message, while Hall of Fame Russian defenceman Slava Fetisov chastised the NHL for being narrow-minded.

"You are an international league, not Canadians and Americans anymore," he argued. "You get our best players, for almost nothing to fill your arenas."

But when the rhetoric was toned down, it seemed that both sides would find some common ground the next four years.

"Even in my nightmares, I can't believe the NHL would not go to Sochi," said Medvedev.

John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee, who already has travelled to Sochi to try and help the Black Sea resort city duplicate VANOC's success, had a warning for both sides.

"If you don't find a way to come together, you'll never be forgiven."


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