Did The NHL REALLY Want To Pull Out Of The Pyeongchang Olympics?

I bought the original story and it still might be true. When I originally wrote about it, I blamed Gary Bettman and the NHL for taking a backward step in international hockey by pulling out of this year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. At the time I blamed it on the usual factor, American ignorance, and that this was another typical arrogant, ignorant business decision, one that snubbed a country that had recently raised the quality of its hockey team to at least the “B level” of play, a country of 50 million people who would be a splendid new market for international hockey and for the NHL itself. I condemned the NHL and did not give the motives for it anymore thought until what has recently happened.

As reported on many Internet websites, there was the current American Vice President, Mike Pence attending the opening ceremonies with a mandate by President Trump to stir up more trouble between the two Koreas. The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in had been using the Olympics to reduce tensions between North and South Korea. In particular, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un was made a special guest of honor.

This did not sit well with the Americans who have been trying to rein in Kim Jong-un and North Korea, one way or another, especially since the start of the Donald Trump administration. And it is Pence’s appearance and mission at the Winter Olympics that has made me think again about the NHL’s decision to withdraw from the South Korean Olympics. Did the Bettman and the NHL really want to do it? Or was there some secret pressure from the American government, perhaps even formal blackmail, that forced Gary Bettman and the NHL to take the decision they made?

First of all in some ways, this is old hat with me. When I was in university in the 1970s, a group of Americans gave a seminar, two years in a row which I attended about the assassination of John Kennedy. They brought clear copies of the Zapruder film, kept out of the United States for protection purposes, showed highly disturbing photos that could be used to prove the existence of a conspiracy, and formulated theories about who could be behind it.

Similarly, when 9/11 occurred, I would watch the Michael Moore film “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and even purchase another “conspiracy possible” dvd. I would note the little puffs of smoke that you still see when watching the World Trade Center buildings collapse, in proper order from the top down, suggesting that the way the buildings collapsed was a professional demolition job, actually caused by explosives planted much earlier in the buildings instead of “decoration” attacks by planes hijacked by “terrorists” to make things “look good”. So I will be the type of person who will tell you that Kennedy died because of a conspiracy and that all the evidence of 9/11 points to President Bush blowing up his own buildings in order to justify a war on Iraq.

The Americans have been masters in concealing the truth about these kind of things. The real decisions about who lives and who dies are made behind the scenes, behind closed doors out of sight. For example, when 9/11 occurred, media dissidents were conveniently fired or muzzled. Despite the recent releases of new information about the Kennedy assassination it is doubtful that the full truth is still known and it is a similar situation for 9/11. One such similar occurrence (not involving the United States) was suggested in the British miniseries “Fall Of Eagles”, when a rich “socialist” who wanted to have a Bolshevik revolution in Russia was actually brought into the presence of Kaiser William II in Germany to get permission to smuggle Vladimir Lenin, then living in exile in Switzerland, back into Russia by means of the famous “sealed railway car” trip through Germany. The Kaiser gave his reluctant assent but feared the consequences. Thus the decision to allow a Communist Russian Revolution to occur was actually made by the German Kaiser who needed to get Russia defeated and out of World War I.

If such backroom decisions and pressure were practiced on Gary Bettman and the NHL by the American government, so far as any decision to pull out of the 2018 Winter Olympics occurred, it is doubtful if the public will find out the truth for a long, long, time, if ever. Before Pence appeared at the Olympics, I had not given the possibility any thought, but when he appeared, it made me reconsider everything. And when thought of logically, there is a real possibility it might have occurred.

Why should Bettman, who has been actively trying to improve international hockey by bringing back the World Cup, allowing NHL regular season games to be played in Europe again, and playing exhibition games in China, suddenly take an extreme, negative decision that badly hurts international hockey? One of the reasons given is that the time zone of the South Korean Olympics is poor for American television ratings. But Bettman hinted that the NHL might go back to the next Olympic Games which will be held in Beijing China, the same time zone. So that excuse makes no sense. And why would Bettman who is a good businessman want to snub a potential great new market for the NHL of 50 million? That’s a poor business decision and Bettman is smarter than that. Why would the Commissioner who needs to see international hockey grow, snub a nation which has raised its standard of play to at least the “B level”?

Like the Kennedy assassination and the 9/11 disaster, only a few people know the real truth. If such pressure occurred then Bettman, a few NHL insider intimates, plus representatives from the American government will know. As far as I know, nobody has asked them and if asked, they will probably deny it. As usual, this kind of event does not look good on America. To return the beginning of the article, the official story might be true… or it might not.

 

China NHL Games: Congratulations?, Hilarious Hypocrisy?, Or Bitter Acid Stupidity?

What I expected was displayed at the NHL website about the first NHL exhibition games in China. Three articles – a game summary, a diary article, and most predictable of all, a wholesome article about how the NHL broke the ice and made new fans in China; describing the excitement, especially among the young, impressionable children; how many patrons in a crowd of only 10,000 in Shanghai were wearing NHL jerseys; how many attended the clinics that the Los Angeles Kings offered; how the NHL made its first tiny baby step in the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion; how historical this was; etc. How sweet and lovable.

I’d be prompted to offer my congratulations to Gary Bettman and the NHL – and they do merit some – except when I think about what they could have done, what they SHOULD have done. Hockey is so minuscule in China that at last glance, the Chinese national team was ranked 37th in the world. What will be the end of all this incision? China moves up to 35?

Meanwhile – since before 1972 [when NHL players first began playing in international tournaments against teams from other countries], there have been a group of countries including Germany, Austria, Poland, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Slovenia, Norway, Hungary and Belarus who have been stuck at the “B level” of quality of play, just below the traditional “big 7″ countries of Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, and Finland. In the 45 years since the Canada-USSR match, only Switzerland and Denmark can be said to make much progress. That is not much to show for 4½ decades when it was said back in 1972, that hockey would become “the number 2 sport in the world” behind soccer.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman just revived the dormant World Cup last year and wants to spread the game internationally. The China games are part of this plan. But “realistic” Bettman won’t tackle the real problem. For his revived World Cup there were only six national teams. Usually in international games in other tournaments, games between “big 7″ countries and “B level” ones are boring mismatches, slaughters that put fans to sleep and only fatten up the scoring statistics of “big 7″ stars. To prevent such mismatches, Bettman cooked up two hybrid teams for his revived World Cup, Team Europe and Team North America. Even Slovakia was not invited to send a team.

If he really wants to spread the game internationally – and have a larger, more meaningful hockey World Cup, one that one day might rank with soccer’s World Cup – there has to be a plan to get at least the “B level” countries up to the standard of play of the traditional powers. That would mean a real expansion in prestige for international hockey.

But there is no plan. Instead the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks make a tiny dent in 37th ranked China. In 45 years, hosting once-a-year clinics, and sending out of work NHL coaches to “B level” countries to improve things is not enough. International hockey has not been developed or improved. It’s every country for itself with no well thought out plan to improve the quality of the game. The World Cup could be played by at least 16 national teams. Right now it is played by only six and there is no hope of broadening it in sight. Hockey cannot expand without resolving the quality of play problem. The “B level” countries are still where they were back in 1972. That’s over a dozen teams that could make a significant expansion of international hockey.

It is even worse on the women’s side. Only Canada and the United States can ice quality teams. Women’s hockey has been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics because of the lack of competition. In contrast, international curling, for both men and women, has made real improvements world wide. Maybe it is an unfair comparison or perhaps there is a lesson there somewhere.

Meanwhile while the NHL pats itself on the back because of China, a hilarious piece of hypocrisy has developed for Bettman and the NHL. South Korea has joined at least the ranks of the “B level” countries. Yes, that same South Korea which will host the Winter Olympics next year in 2018 at Pyeongchang, that Gary Bettman and his NHL owners see fit to abandon, has improved its men’s hockey team so much that next year they will be promoted to the top level of the World Championship tournament where they will take on the traditional “big 7″ teams for the first time.

After being awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics, the South Koreans obviously did their hockey homework. They were nowhere in the ranks of hockey a few years ago, but some smart people who knew what they were doing improved the team so much that it can make its debut at the top level of next year’s international tournament. How good is this new, upstart country? Nobody knows. There will be a clearer picture when they play the traditional top bananas next year.

South Korea is where the NHL should have sent the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings, not 37th ranked China. But Pyeongchang is not as glamorous at Shanghai and Beijing and the population of South Korea is “only” 50 million, not 1.3 billion. Money, not the betterment of hockey is talking. Bettman wants hockey to grow internationally, but the NHL pulls out of “unglamorous” South Korea, the one country that has made a real climb in the hockey ranks internationally. If South Korea does anything significant at next year’s World Championship, it will be awfully embarrassing for Bettman and the NHL. If the South Koreans play well enough to stick around at the top level, or [horrors!] actually win a medal, will Bettman be forced to invite them to his 2020 World Cup?

It’s bad enough already. Reward a country that has really improved its hockey program by snubbing their nation of 50 million people by pulling out of their Winter Olympics. That’s a great policy for the NHL which could have a brand new market of 50 million people to tap. But South Korea, like the “B Level” countries is not 1.3 billion China.

So we come to our conclusion judgment of the NHL’s experimental China exhibition games. Congratulations NHL, you have made a little tiny dent in expanding international hockey. For that we grant you a halo over your head. But when it is thought about what could have been done, what should have been done, perhaps it would be a more appropriate response to roll on the floor in hilarity or sit bitterly ruing at the opportunities that have been wasted.

 

Wasted Summer By The NHL

Well the new 2017-18 NHL season is about to dawn and the NHL gets revived after a school teacher two month vacation. In June there were exciting events; the crowning of the 2017 NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL Awards Banquet, the start of the new Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the NHL draft. After that flurry the NHL has taken what it considers a well deserved two month vacation.

Since July 1, the only news at the NHL website is which free agents signed with which teams, and a series of articles about the strength and weakness of every team for next season. The only significant news was that Dallas was chosen to be the site of next year’s NHL draft in honor of its 25th anniversary. Oh yes – the new Detroit arena opened.

Pardon me, but I think that is a poor result for a summer where so many important issues that can affect the NHL long term have gone unresolved. Sure everybody deserves a rest, but I was hoping that at least one major issue would be resolved before the new season started. All the significant issues that were shelved on July 1, are still present now with the start of this new season, and in some cases, with less time to solve them, some with potential dire consequences. Am I the only one who is being a sour, Scroogey, sore-head who thinks that this summer was wasted by the NHL which should have been working maybe even overtime to solve its problems and then putting its feet up for a well-earned rest?

I am not alone if you are a Quebec Nordiques fan and want to be finally taken out of the “suspended” state that the NHL placed Quebec in after the last bungled attempt at expansion. Resolving the Quebec situation would mean that Commissioner Bettman and the NHL finally found an acceptable owner instead of the pro-separatist Pierre Karl Peladeau who made inappropriate and unacceptable public remarks about Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson. Instead one of the two best markets in Canada without an NHL team, one of the more valuable franchises in the NHL, only has a couple of Montreal Canadiens pre-season exhibition games to look forward to next season. Its beautiful new arena, the Videotron which the NHL loves is wasted and empty, a continuing scandal to a summer of nothing.

And as a sidelight, the granting of a new Quebec expansion franchise would allow the NHL to realign at last into a 32 team NFL structure which would allow the league to expand comfortably in the future to at least 40 and even 48 teams. Instead, thanks to the greedy terms of the bungled last attempt at expansion, the league only got the new Las Vegas team, leaving it at 31 teams, one short of the symmetrical 32 necessary for realignment.

The NHL should have been working its tail off this summer at devising some acceptable new expansion terms so that it could expand as soon as possible and resolve the alignment problem. The investment world found a $500 million expansion fee too excessive and backed away during the last expansion leaving only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec left, a humiliating embarrassment for the NHL. Now they have to either set an appropriate NHL expansion fee or wait indefinitely for investors to accept their current half a billion dollar terms. Expansion and realignment could be delayed for a long, long time.

And on the expansion front, Quebec’s brother franchise, Hartford, which also lost its team in the 1990s finally made some news last season by announcing a $250 million upgrade of the XL Center to a 19,000 seating capacity. So Whaler fans will also want to know the NHL’s opinion about this renovation, whether an upgraded 41 year old building will be suitable to get their team back and any expansion terms and fees that might occur along the way. But there has been no official announcement by the NHL on any of this, during the summer.

And when you mention Hartford now, you also draw in the New York Islanders because the Hartford mayor and the Connecticut governor sent the Islanders ownership a formal letter inviting them to become the new, relocated Hartford Whalers once the XL Center renovation is completed. The Islanders are having arena problems right now. The second-smallest NHL arena, the Barclay’s Center was built for basketball and has bad ice and obstructed view seats for hockey and the Islanders cannot sell it out. Because of the arena, the Islanders had the second worst attendance last year and if they don’t get good attendance they cannot afford to pay star players like John Tavares and build a competitive team.

The very existence of the Islanders depends on getting some kind of new arena, either by a move to Hartford or a new facility to be built in Queens. Time is running out and there have been no announcements about any positive developments this summer. This issue will heat up as the new season progresses. It is rumored that the Barclay Center itself wants the Islanders gone as soon as possible. The sooner this problem is solved the better, before an invisible gun is pointed at the NHL’s head.

And the NHL has a similar problem in its Western Conference, in Phoenix where both the NHL and the citizens of Glendale have publicly said they are finished with each other. Gary Bettman’s attempts to keep a team in Phoenix including the NHL owning the team and keeping it from falling into the lap of Hamilton via Jim Balsille may finally be over if a new arena in the downtown area is not built. But Phoenix and Arizona taxpayers are not going to be too eager to build a new arena for a franchise that is abandoning a facility that is only 13 years old and has only iced a competitive team once in its entire history. And in this summer of NHL nothing, there have been no announcements about a new arena or any move by the Coyotes to another city like Portland or Seattle.

And there have been no announcements about a new Seattle arena finally being built. Seattle, a “done deal”, a front-running city for an NHL franchise during the last horrible NHL expansion somehow bungled its bid like front-runners Houston and Hamilton did in expansions before them. The NHL was specifically courting Seattle because it was a western city that could balance up its conferences but the arena soap opera is going on with no end in sight. The NHL got their 31st team, Las Vegas, but not their 32nd team to balance things and realign.

Also on the arena front, there have been no announcements about the start of new arenas in Calgary and Ottawa. Bettman made a tour of these Canadian cites as well as Phoenix urging a resolution to these facility situations. There seems to be positive sentiment in Ottawa for a new downtown facility, but in Calgary, many politicians and citizens are questioning the terms and financial figures of the proposed “Calgary Next” project. And the Flames added fuel to the fire by threatening to walk out. There is nothing positive to announce in this summer of nothing in either city.

Nor is there anything positive to report internationally. The NHL pulled out of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next year leaving many NHL players threatening to desert their teams and play for their country anyway. As if that was not enough, the South Koreans who have been down in the dregs of international hockey since it began, suddenly improved enough to be promoted to the top level of international play in next year’s World Championship. That could be awfully embarrassing for Bettman who has been trying to revive the World Cup and promote international hockey and for the NHL which has now snubbed a potential new market of 50 million people, if the South Koreans do anything significant in next year’s tournament. But no announcement during the summer of any change of heart has been made.

Likewise, there has been no announcement of any new developments to improve the quality of international hockey below the traditional “big 7″ country level. Vancouver and Los Angeles will play some exhibition games in low ranked, but big market China. And Boston and Los Angeles will host some clinics for the Chinese too. But there have been no formulated plans set out to raise the standard of play particularly in the dozen “B level” countries just below the “big 7″ so that a real expansion of international hockey and the revived World Cup can be made. Just the same old thing since 1972 when NHL professionals began playing in international tournaments.

All these issues plus others that were shelved during the summer are still there when the NHL comes back from vacation. Thwarted hopes for expansion and realignment, the fate of the Winter Olympics, unresolved arena issues, improvement of international hockey, are still now hotter than ever. Am I the only person who is a sourpuss because it seems to me that nothing was done on these issues? Will the NHL come to rue that some of these issues might have been solved or at least worked on during the past summer? Can these issues continue to be shelved forever?

 

PyeongChang Is Not Glamorous Enough

Sure there were a lot of negatives including having to shut down the NHL for two weeks, but that did not stop the NHL before.  Since 1998 the NHL has participated in the Olympics despite numerous criticisms, which they list in two articles on their website.  But strip away everything and it comes down to PyeonChang, South Korea not being “big”, “sexy”, or “glamorous” enough for American eyes and ears.

According to the polls, 73% American NHL fans and 53% Canadian fans were against playing in the Olympics.  It smacks of the usual contempt of North American sports fans (much more in the United States than in Canada) for foreigners and their important sports.  Though unsaid, such actions as this pull-out from the Olympics means, “We only like international sports so long as we win and we get big television ratings”.  And in “unglamorous” PyeongChang with its awkward time schedule, no big television ratings are likely to occur.

But it would not surprise me to see the NHL back in the games in 2022 when they will be held in Beijing, China, the biggest market in the world that the United States would love to exploit.  Small town South Korea (which is a huge market in itself) is not considered important enough by American capitalists.  The NHL of course continues to protest that it will do its best to promote the growth of hockey around the world.  At their website, they haul out their haloed future good deeds.  The Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings will play preseason games in China (not small time South Korea), and Ottawa and Colorado will play regular season games in Stockholm.  That still does not hide the fact that since the Canada-USSR match of 1972, the NHL has done virtually nothing to increase the quality of hockey outside of the “traditional big 7” countries.  The world is still waiting for Germany, Denmark, China, and France among too many others to win an Olympic medal, a World Junior Championship, and a tournament like last September’s World Cup.

But this shameful withdrawal is simply part of the overall contempt by Americans for foreigners that has been growing steadily since the 1960s when the United States assumed world leadership.  The NFL makes little attempt to hide its attitude for people who live outside the United States, charging exploitative ticket prices for Buffalo Bills games in Toronto which caused the games to be about half full, and then sending the worst games of the season, between bottom placed teams that have no chance of selling out in America to London for the British to digest.  Even more laughable is the American attitude to the World Baseball Classic, started to promote the game of baseball around the world.  Most Americans do not take the tournament seriously, pretending that it is minor league.  At least, Canada when it plays hockey internationally shows respect for the tournaments and wins medals.  But the United States has yet to collect even a bronze medal at the World Baseball Classic, never mind win the tournament.  And Americans come up with phony excuses like, “We didn’t send our best players”.  They continue to believe the fiction that players who play in Major League Baseball for the “World” Series (Which is only remotely a tiny morsel of being international when the Toronto Blue Jays play for the championship) are the best in the world when there is evidence to believe that maybe the majority of the best players of the world do not play in its league.  At least the NHL can do better than that.  Yet Americans are willing to pay top dollar for a product that may only be second best.

Can you imagine what would happen to the World Cup of soccer if countries decided to step in and out of it when it suits them?  It would lose its prestige and importance.  But the NHL has no such feelings and beliefs.  This is an American business decision and the Olympics cannot get in the way.  In 1860, when the American Civil War loomed, the winning candidate would declare that no American state on its own mere whim can lawfully get out of the Union.  But this is exactly what the NHL is doing with the Olympics.

If there is any criticism and outrage, Americans will just shrug it off.  And if there are any tears and wounds to be healed, you know what they will do?  All you readers who guessed that the Yanks will pull out the tapes of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” to watch again to give them a sense of pride, superiority, and to hide a guilty conscience are correct.  And maybe they’ll bring back those wonderful teams, the Mighty Ducks (who have yet to play a Canadian hockey team) and the Bad News Bears to defend America from the evil foreigners.

The most effective opposition may come from within.  It is well known that many players from the NHL want to play in the Olympics and will try to find a way to make it happen.  The NHLPA has already issued a statement regretting the decision and putting the sole blame on the NHL alone.  It will be interesting to see what will happen, how many players will rebel.  Those who go certainly are not afraid of getting injured which is one of the main reasons the NHL claims it is not playing any more.

How can the NHL expect anybody outside of North America to take its just-revived World Cup seriously when it shows no respect for the Olympic Games?  They claim that they want international hockey to grow but decisions like this are not going to help.  There has to be something internationally in hockey that is bigger than the national championships.  That is the basis of the importance of the World Cup in soccer.  Curling recognizes this and the growth of high quality curling around the world has been the result.  But in international hockey there are too many candidates (including the NHL) claiming superiority, no real direction for the growth of international hockey, and the game suffers as a result.  It is international hockey anarchy, every “important body” like the rival Roman generals who weakened and caused the downfall of the Roman Empire, in it for himself.

Put the Olympic Games in “important” Asian countries like China and Japan and the NHL will show some grudging interest.  Put them in traditional “big 7” European countries, like Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland, and the NHL will be forced to go (even in awkward time Sochi) out of respect for its European players, coaches, scouts, and management.  Best of all put them in North American cities where they will get big television ratings and the NHL will beg to come in.  But in “unknown” PyeongChang, South Korea, unless the NHL had some mythical parent frowning and screaming in a harsh voice with a pointed finger to the door, the word “Go”, all it will do is turn its tail and slink quietly away.  After all, it is a business decision.

 

 

NHL/America’s Attitude To The Olympics: They Are An Alien Concept

Besides news about the daily games, what’s the news on the NHL’s website? It is said that the NHL’s participation in the next Winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea is in danger. At the latest NHL Board meeting, many club owners, voiced several grievances against the games of which there are some of legitimate merit. There is the problem of shutting down the NHL for two weeks and revising the schedule. There is the problem of insurance and injuries to players.

But these legitimate problems seem to be playing a minor role in the current dispute. The main grievance is said to be money; the Olympics do not “pay”. What the NHL (and American television) wants are Winter Olympic Games held in the United States or Canada which can bring in big ratings and dollars. The South Korean time zone is just too much out of range for their liking. They also want their rumps kissed by having the IOC pay for their insurance, travel and accommodations. The IOC is willing to do this just like before.

The NHL/American attitude seems to be that they can step in and step out of the Olympics or any other sports or cultural event anytime they feel like it. There is no firm commitment, no sense of duty, no sense of something “spiritually higher” than themselves. This is a business decision.

This is not the first time the Olympics have been used for other purposes instead of a sporting event. Usually the reason is politics. Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda and to prove racial superiority. There was the horrible Munich massacre in 1972. In 1980, the United States and other countries withdrew from the Moscow games to protest the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. Then the eastern block retaliated by withdrawing from the 1984 Los Angeles games. This time the reason is big business.

The NHL participated in the games at Sochi, Russia which were also out of North American time zones. But the NHL now has a sizeable number of Russians and Europeans playing on their rosters, so it would not have been very politic to not participate in Sochi. But South Korea can make no similar claim on the NHL and it is not big enough nor as important enough as a country like China in the NHL’s eyes. So there are less qualms about telling the South Koreans to stick it.

Even if the NHL formally does not participate there may be problems. Several players have made it known that they want to participate in the Olympics whether the NHL participates or not. It will be interesting to see what happens should that come to pass.

But the NHL and the United States attitude to the Olympics runs deeper than money. They just do not understand international competition unless they win. They are still willing to brag and boast about the “Miracle On Ice” victory over the USSR in 1980 when it suits them but overall their attitude is bad and belongs with myths and fairytales. And if they pull out of the 2018 games they will have no claim to brag and boast about anything.

In 1972, Canada had a similar attitude to international hockey competition, but its near defeat and the excitement caused by the close competition the USSR gave changed everything. The Canadian public was given a choice; should the NHL stay a North American only league or admit players no matter where they came from if they were good. They voiced overwhelming support for the latter policy. That is why the NHL is a multi-national league today. That is why there are still competitions between NHL professionals at the Olympics and the Canada/World Cup.

The American attitude seems to be that they exist on their own planet except when they win. When leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL were formed, their champions are somehow champions of the “world”, not merely the United States or Canada despite the fact that none of their teams play a single international game except when teams from Canada and the United States in the NHL play each other or when the Toronto Blue Jays/Raptors participate. The current dispute about whether to play in South Korea is simply reality intruding on American fairytales. “We want the best hockey players in the world to play at our South Korean Olympics.” “Huh? What? What’s all this about?”

But the NHL’s bad attitude is nothing compared to baseball and football. On other blogs I have written many articles about the American attitude to the World Baseball Classic, an event designed to encourage the growth of baseball internationally. Instead most Americans pour scorn and ridicule the event, even questioning whether the event itself and its result is legitimate. This cleverly covers up the truth that the United States – the country that invented baseball – has never come close to even winning even a third place medal. Yet Americans still believe they are the best baseball players in the world; that they are willing to pay top dollar to MLB because MLB says that its players are the best in the world in spite of all the evidence to the contrary; and that the champion of the “World Series” is the champion of the world despite not playing a single foreign opponent.

But the worst attitude belongs as usual to the arrogant NFL. They despise “foreigners” and make little attempt to hide their contempt. When the Buffalo Bills began playing some of their games in Toronto in order to cash in on its lucrative market, the ticket prices were set so high that even the most fanatical Ontario NFL fan had to say, “Wait a minute. We’re not suckers.” Another telling event are the games played in London, UK. Usually the competition is between bottom-of-the-barrel teams or mismatches, projected meaningless games, games that would not sell out on their native soil. Indianapolis against Jacksonville? New York Giants against Los Angeles? Usually a seller hauls out his best stuff when he wants to make a good impression. The NFL is saying, “Take this crap, you ignorant foreigners. That’s all you’re good for.” And Americans wonder why they are unpopular when they travel abroad.

Is this attitude merely reserved for lowly foreigners? Ask the good citizens of St. Louis how they liked having their football team taken and gift wrapped to Los Angeles simply because their market is not as big as the second largest market in the United States. So much for their loyal support (Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston can all relate to this.) All the NFL had to do was expand by one or two teams and nobody would have been hurt. If this is the league’s attitude to its own citizens and supporters, it is no wonder that “foreigners” are given the dregs from the barrel.

Too bad the situation is not like soccer’s FIFA. Sure they like and want the American money and acclaim but they are quite prepared to live without the United States, being satisfied with the rest of the world. At last glance, there does not seem to be any attempt by FIFA to consult the United States or American television executives about which countries to award the World Cup to. Too bad the situation is not the same with the NHL and the current Olympics. What we will get whether good or bad is an American business decision.

Gary Bettman’s 2016 To-Do List

Now that the NHL season has started, there will be no rest for Gary Bettman. He will be one busy NHL Commissioner. Here are the 10 most important issues he has to face on his to-do list.

1. Find A Suitable Owner For A Quebec City Franchise

Pierre Karl Peladeau, owner of Quebecor which made an unsuccessful bid to be the new owner of a returned Quebec Nordiques supports the separatist provincial political party, Parti Quebecois, and made unacceptable racial remarks about anglophone, Geoff Molson, who owns the Montreal Canadiens. Bettman and the NHL Board cannot tolerate such an owner and automatically turned down Peladeau. Now Bettman has to find a suitable owner for Quebec who is French Canadian. Mario Lemieux might have been the logical choice but it has recently been reported that the sale of the Pittsburgh Penguins has been canceled so a new Quebec City team with Lemieux as the main owner does not seem a possibility any more. The sudden resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche makes one suspect that he will be involved in a returned Quebec franchise. Bettman would like to get this issue resolved quickly because he would like to able to announce a new Quebec team in time for the 100th NHL anniversary and the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017.

Once the announcement of Quebec’s readmission is made, he will automatically move on to issue 2 which is

2. Realign The League

Once the NHL reaches the symmetrical number of 32 teams, the sensible thing to do is realign the league into the same structure the NFL has; 2 Conferences of 4 Divisions each, with each division having 4 teams. This will make it possible for the league to comfortably expand in the future to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams (5 teams to a division) and even 48 teams (6 teams to a division).

Unfortunately the combination of Quebec/Las Vegas expansion means that one of the two teams that were shifted to the Eastern Conference (Detroit and Columbus, probably Columbus) has to go back to the west which neither wants to do so Bettman now has to move on to issue 3 which is

3. Balance Up The Conferences

When Bettman announced NHL expansion, only two of his expectations came true; fanatical Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way through. What he and the NHL Board were really hoping for was a four-team expansion of Quebec and three new western cities, making the NHL a 34 team league completely balanced between western and eastern cities. Instead the NHL’s greedy $500 million entry fee plus $10 million “consideration” fee ($8 million refundable if you get turned down) was deemed unrealistic and unacceptable by the business world. Of 16 applications that the NHL handed out, only Quebec and Las Vegas went all the way. In particular, “done deal” Seattle and Portland failed to respond. Now most likely the NHL will wait in vain for two more western fanatics to appear which will mean that the NHL will remain unbalanced for a long time or he must consider issue 4

4. Reappraise The Expansion Fee Price

Most of the business world has said that paying $500 million for an NHL franchise is not the true market value. That means that the NHL has to let years pass (and no one can predict how many with any accuracy) until an NHL franchise reaches that value and remain in a state of unbalanced conferences for that time which is unacceptable to the team that is being shifted to the Western Conference. If the NHL wants to expand again as soon as possible so that the league imbalance can be corrected, the only way to lure more investors is to revise the current expansion fee downwards. And if that is only solution, Bettman will probably have to resolve issue 5 which is

5. Refund Money To Quebec And Las Vegas

Clearly before the 2016 expansion was announced, Bettman and the NHL Board had dreams of dividing up a neat, symmetrical, four-team $2 billion expansion pot. The disappointment of only luring a two-city response with absolutely no competition between rival cities at all (probably a “big 4″ North American professional sports league expansion first) was a real slap in the face to the league. (In contrast, the previous NHL expansion had 11 bidders.) So either publicly or privately in a manner to lose as little face as possible, money must be refunded back to Quebec and Las Vegas so that a new, realistic expansion fee can be set. Once that is done Bettman will do

6. Announce More Expansion

And unless you are from Hartford (a city that Bettman promised readmission terms to in 2010 along with Quebec and Winnipeg) or maybe Hamilton or Toronto, any eastern bidder will not get much consideration (Though if you show up with a stack of cash in hand, Bettman and the Board will show some interest, if not now then for the immediate future). The next NHL expansion will be about balancing up the conferences so that the unfortunate team that was shifted can move back east. Seattle, Portland, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, San Francisco, even small Saskatoon, Spokane, or some unlikely city like San Diego or Tulsa, the NHL wants to hear from you. Two of you will be chosen to be the 33rd and 34th NHL franchises. So if you are from the west and want to be an NHL team owner, your timing could not be better.

But as well as dealing with all these internal NHL issues, Bettman has to deal with some outside of North America starting with

7. Evaluate The World Cup Of Hockey

Unlike the Quebec problem, there is a four year window to do this but the sooner it is started the better. Bringing back the World Cup was a good idea and a success and Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr outlined some ideas for taking the concept further and for introducing new international competition tournaments. But the tournament revealed problems in international hockey, mostly about the level of play. Even before the tournament was announced Bettman recognized that there was a serious gap in the quality of play between the traditional “big 7″ countries, the next “B Level” countries, and the rest of the 50 ranked countries that play hockey. So he created teams North America and Europe to fill out the roster. In his mind, these teams would merely be credible opposition, respectable 7th and 8th placed teams. They were not designed to be the second and third best teams but that is what happened, thus revealing another wide gap in quality of play between champion Canada and the rest of the world.

If Bettman wants the hockey World Cup to get the same stature as soccer’s World Cup he has to face issue 8 which has never been properly dealt with in the 44 years since the Canada-USSR match of 1972

8. Raise The Standard Of Play In International Hockey

After the Canada-USSR match of 1972, there were boasts that soon hockey would be the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But in 2016, the same “big 7″ countries are still Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, and Sweden. There has been no broadening of the base since 1972 to a “big 10″, “big 12″ or ideally “big 16″ and beyond. For some reason Slovakia was not allowed to ice a team at the recent World Cup (they had the most players on team Europe) and Bettman went with teams Europe and North America instead of more national teams. But he must know that if hockey’s World Cup is to gain prestige and stature, credible participation beyond the traditional “big 7″ countries has to occur. To fully achieve this, he has to find some way of raising the standard of play for both the remaining “big 6″ countries and the dozen “B Level” countries up to the standard of Canada. The situation is far worse for international women’s hockey where only the United States and Canada ice credible teams and the sport has been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics.

Almost the only steps that have been taken in the past 44 years are to host some clinics by the NHL and to send coaches from the “big 7″ countries to develop players in other countries. It is not enough and if Bettman wants to see real improvement, he will have to thoroughly examine why Canada has been able to create a system that develops hockey players of such quality and quantity that puts it continually above the rest of the world and then formulate and implement plans so that other countries can consistently reach that level of play. One unexpected bonus of the World Cup was that it revealed where to start. The composition of second place team Europe was mostly Slovaks, Germans, Swiss, and Danish players. So a tangible goal for the 2020 World Cup would be to raise standard of play for the remaining “big 6″ countries plus Germany, Switzerland and Denmark and to have a “big 10″ World Cup in 2020. Even the development of just three “B Level” countries to the higher standards of the “big 7″ countries permanently would be a real revolution in international hockey after the static development of the past four decades.

But even before 2020, Commissioner Bettman must resolve issue 9 which is

9. Decide If The NHL Participates In The 2018 Olympics

Bettman and Bill Daly announced that a final decision about NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea would be made in December or January. The NHL has participated in every Olympics since 1998. Several players including Alexander Ovechkin have said they will play in the Olympics whether the NHL officially participates or not. It is a ticklish question and the easiest way out is for the NHL to remain an official participant. Money. specifically who pays for what is said to be the main stumbling block.

And finally there is the countdown to 2017 when

10. NHL Celebrates Its Centennial Anniversary

During the World Cup, Bettman outlined many plans for the upcoming 100th NHL anniversary. Wayne Gretzky has been named the NHL’s official ambassador for these projects. There are more plans being created for 2017. The founding of the NHL in 1917 was an all Canadian affair. The first American team, the Boston Bruins, did not join the league until 1924, so the focus of the upcoming celebration will be on Canada. One of the founding members of the NHL was the Quebec Bulldogs. So bringing back an NHL team to Quebec would be one of the main goals for 2017. Which brings us back to issue number 1…

How Injury Might Impact the Olympic Rosters

The Olympic rosters have to be finalized by New Years and the NHL has seemingly hit the mid-season injury peak, so how will these injuries affect the final rosters? Using the prospective rosters for each team from NHL.com I broke it down team by team.

Canada: To put Stamkos on the roster or not to put Stamkos on the roster? That is the question. Steven Stamkos has set a personal goal to be back practicing by January and playing by February. So far his recovery has been at a remarkable pace as he was back on skates only 33 days after his leg was broken. However, if they put him on the roster and he is not ready they waste a roster spot. On the other hand, if they don’t put him on the roster and he is ready, the team has to wait for another injury to happen. Canada has plenty of talent to choose from so Stamkos’s absence is not devastating, although he would be missed.

USA: With only two injuries, USA is in pretty good shape. Dustin Byfuglin seems to be the logical choice since Paul Martin is injured. If Johnathan Quick is still having groin issues come the Olympics, Corey Schneider could take his spot and the third spot would fall to Ben Bishop or Jimmy Howard.

Sweden: If Henrik Zetterburg (herniated disc) is not ready, this would be a major blow for Sweden.  Louis Erickson (concussion), Victor Hedman and Alexander Edler are also injured. Johnny Oduya is a good replacement for Erickson and Marcus Kruger could fill one of the defensive openings.

Finland: With only Mikael Granlund (head) and Lauri Korpikoski (upper body) injured, Finland could be okay. They have some young talent available that could fill those spots.

Russia: Sergei Bobrovsky has a groin injury and should be good to go come Olympic time, but if he is still injured, Evgeni Nabokov could take his spot and the third spot would be open to someone else. If Bobrovsky is able to play Nabokov could take the third spot.

Slovakia: With Marian Gaborik (sprained knee), Richard Panik (undisclosed), and Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) all questionable, Slovakia will have to go to European teams to fill out there rosters. There is no shortage of talent as several of those players do have some NHL experience.

Czech Republic: They seem to be the luckiest as their prospective team has no injuries.

Of course more injuries can happen and those currently (as of 12/14) on injured reserve can recover so good luck to all the GMs that have to figure this stuff out by January 1st.