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NHL focused on World Cup over Olympics, says Bettman

National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman has said the return of the World Cup of Hockey, rather than participation at the 2018 winter Olympics, is the organisation’s main focus as it reportedly seeks to draw up a 12-year plan for the international game.

The last edition of the World Cup of Hockey national team tournament was held in 2004 and staged in seven cities in North America and Europe, with the final in Toronto. The World Cup is rumoured for a 2016 return and would prove lucrative for the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) as revenues would be split 50-50 between the organisations. Crucially it would also not require a three-week league shutdown in the middle of a season, as the Olympic Games do.

“We really haven't thought about (the Olympics),” Bettman said at the Primetime Sports Management Conference. “We are focused with the Players' Association on a World Cup. That's been getting all of our attention, and it is something we do jointly with the Players' Association so that is what we're focused on.”

NHL players have competed at the Olympics since the 1998 Games in Nagano, but their release is a difficult subject and will arise once again for PyeongChang’s Games in 2018. Concerning the Olympics, Bettman said: “It is a mixed bag. It is not all good and it is not all bad. If you're a sports fan, it is really cool when you see the best-on-best for hockey at the Olympics. The problem is we disappear when football is done and there is no baseball. It is just basketball and us, and we're about to hit the stretch run of the season and the season is building in intensity and we disappear for two-plus weeks.

“I haven't made up my own mind. We haven't made a decision. It is a balancing act. Part of it depends on how accommodating the (International Olympic Committee) and the local organising committee and the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) are in terms of the arrangements we need to do it. Even under the best of circumstances, it is tough.”

Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail said the NHL and NHLPA are keen on drawing up a 12-year plan for international ice hockey that would include the winter Olympics, a World Cup every two years, the annual World Championships and participation in a club competition such as football’s Uefa Champions League, all with a view to selling the sport around the world.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said: “As I’ve said before, we have a sport (in which) 30 per cent of the players, more or less, come from Europe. We have well-developed hockey markets, knowledgeable fans, professional leagues over there. You’ve got the international federation headquartered over there.

“So we have an opportunity (to sell NHL hockey) if we can figure out how to develop a real, long-term international calendar. You can imagine a wide variety of potential events that would go into that. But you have to start somewhere.”