NHL right to keep players out of Olympics

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It's too costly and risky, speakers say

The NHL has made the right decision not to allow its players to participate in the Winter Olympics, an audience in Olds was told Friday.

The Winter Olympics begin this Friday in PyeongChang, South Korea, and run until Feb. 25.

Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke and Craig MacTavish, vice-president of hockey operations for the Edmonton Oilers, participated in a hot stove session during the Every Kid Every Community speaker series.

The event, a fundraiser for minor hockey, the Olds Grizzlys and Olds College Broncos hockey, was held Friday at the Pomeroy Inn & Suites.

Burke and MacTavish were asked what they thought of the NHL’s decision.

Burke noted he’s been involved with Olympic hockey teams in Sochi in 2014 and Vancouver in 2010. He also worked for the NHL during the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.

“I’m a guy who says the NHL should be at the Olympics, but this one’s easy (to say no to),” he said.

Burke said organizers for previous winter games have guaranteed costs for possible injuries to players and have covered costs to fly them to the games.

Not this year.

Burke said those two issues combined would have cost the NHL about US$14 million. Meanwhile, he said, owners would lose revenue while their best players played over there.

“Ask the New York Islanders how they like Sochi,” Burke said. “Because after they came back, John Tavares didn’t play again, and the Islanders had to eat a million and a half (U.S. dollars) in salary from that period to the end of the year.”

Representatives of the International Ice Hockey Federation offered to cover those costs, but Burke said that’s not a solution.

“All the revenues they receive are flow-through monies for development,” Burke said.

“So that $14 million would have come out of money that would have gone to the Czech Republic or Denmark or somewhere in Canada to build a rink and (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman properly said, ‘no, we’re not robbing this pocket to put this one in. Someone else who has the money is going to pay it and not take it away from development.'”

“I hope it’s different going forward. I hope Bejing is a different result,” he added.

MacTavish agreed.

“I know the players are disappointed and they feel as Brian does that they want to be there. It’s unbelievable hockey to watch,” he said.

MacTavish said he got to watch a lot of Olympic hockey during the Vancouver Winter Olympics because he was “between jobs” at that time.

All is not necessarily lost, MacTavish indicated.

“I still think the hockey’s going to be interesting,” he said. “It won’t have quite the drama without the NHL players there, but it’s still going to be really entertaining for all of us going forward.”

Burke agreed with that.

“Most of the guys playing for the North American teams – for Team USA and Team Canada – were relatively high draft picks. These are names you’ll remember,” he said.

“These are names you’ll remember from a draft eight or 10 years ago and say, ‘I remember that name,’ he was a star in Swift Current.

“These are guys who just missed – or played a little bit and then fell out. So it’s not a bunch of slugs; it’s not a bunch of no-names. These are guys who just missed and have still played in Europe,” Burke added.

“It’s not best on best but it’s pretty darn good. They’ll be evenly matched. I think the hockey’s going to be good.”

After the game, a shuttle service took participants to an Olds Grizzlys game against the Camrose Kodiaks at the Sportsplex. The Kodiaks won 4-3 in a shootout.

“It’s not best on best but it’s pretty darn good. They’ll be evenly matched. I think the hockey’s going to be good.”
BRIAN BURKE
PRESIDENT OF HOCKEY DEVELOPMENT CALGARY FLAMES

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Doug Collie

Doug Collie joined the Olds Albertan in 2014 as editor. He covers municipal politics, news, community events, arts and entertainment and sports happening in and around Bowden and Olds.