Russian revolution in Sochi?
Hockey Summit tackles 2014 Games
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|NHL's Gary Bettman speaks at the Hockey Summit being held this week in Toronto. (Dave Thomas/QMI AGENCY)
Coffee, bacon and a big slice of Olympic fear-mongering was served Wednesday morning at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit in Toronto.
On one side of the downtown Sheraton Hotel were officials from the International Ice Hockey Federation and European hockey interests, warning of dire consequences if the National Hockey League decides not to participate at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. There was even suggestion of a wide-spread NHL player revolt, walking out on their teams in the middle of the 2013-14 season to play in the Games under suspension.
On the other side were some NHL general managers who have a long list of injury, travel, insurance and compensation concerns, never mind shutting down the league for two or three weeks for games that won't be seen live in prime time.
"If you don't find a way to come together, you'll never be forgiven (by fans)," said John Furlong, CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Organizing Committee.
Added Hall of Fame Russian defenceman Slava Fetisov, "I understand as much as Canadians, I love my country and want to see the best players go."
According to IIHF officials, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and KHL president Alexander Medvedev are taking the lead in the planning for Sochi, with frequent visits to the Black Sea resort town. But what if the world's stars stay home?
"People forget about 1917, but there would be another revolution in Russia," quipped Summit panelist Igor Kuperman, a former NHL team executive and a co-founder of the KHL. "How will Canadians feel if there is no Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla or Rick Nash? How do the owners explain it?"
Kuperman said that Alex Ovechkin's threats to leave the Washington Capitals to go to Sochi could happen and if so, other top Russians, Czechs and Scandinavians could follow. They would likely be automatically suspended by their NHL teams and forfeit pay, though European sponsors could reimburse them.
But fellow panelist Ken Holland, general manager of the Detroit Red Wings and Steve Yzerman's assistant in Vancouver, said his team is a prime example of one that often puts too much on the line for the Olympics. He cited the knee injury Yzerman suffered through as a player during the 2002 Games when he should have rested and how the Wings were shorthanded for a key game when he let his Swedes stay a couple of extra days after winning the gold in '06 to party in Stockholm. Most serious, Holland said, was the potential of missing the playoffs last season when the ninth-place Wings had to rush an exhausted Brian Rafalski back into action after the gold medal Canada-U.S. game.
"From an emotional side, I want to be in the Olympics," Holland said. "But from the business side, I work for (Mike and Marian) Ilitch. We sign players to long-term, big money contracts that are not insured. You miss the playoffs, you could potentially lose (a trip to the Stanley Cup final) if you look at the seventh and eighth seeded teams in the Eastern Conference last year. You could lose a lot of money there.
"Steve felt the pressure of playing for his country and you couldn't replace him (in Salt Lake City), but his knee flared up so bad he couldn't play the rest of the regular season. Our Tomas Holmstrom had the same bone on bone injury this year, but took the two weeks off and by all accounts, feels better coming into this year."
As for players bolting to Sochi, Holland said high-salaried players might not want to risk a career ending injury with no compensation from the NHL.
"These things aren't quite as easy as we want them to be," Holland cautioned.
"But you like to negotiate these things so that everyone feels good. That's the hope."
Holland suggested a private plane be ready so NHLers on all four semi-final teams at Sochi could fly back on the last day. He also got a shot in about the often ridiculously rigid Olympic credential and arena security protocol, which prevented him and the Ilitchs from visiting his players post-game, despite Ilitch's position and the Wings having more than 10 players at one of the tournaments.
IIHF president Rene Fasel promised to work harder with the NHL to address such concerns, but remains cool to the idea of giving them more Olympic money to ease their pain.