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(LEAD) PyeongChang Olympic organizers hold out hopes of NHL participation

All News 17:24 June 23, 2017

(ATTN: ADDS details, background in paras 13-14)

SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- Organizers of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games on Friday didn't abandon hopes that the National Hockey League (NHL) will send its stars to South Korea next February, despite the league's unveiling of the new regular season schedule with no Olympic break.

The NHL said the 2017-2018 regular season will begin on Oct. 5 and finish on April 7. The All-Star break from Jan. 26-29 was the only intermission during the season. The PyeongChang Olympics will take place from Feb. 9-25.

The NHL had already declared in early April that the upcoming season will go on "without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games." The league had then said the matter was "officially closed."

Commissioner Gary Bettman also appeared to slam the door shut before the start of the Stanley Cup Final late last month, saying teams "had no interest in going to the Olympics in PyeongChang."

This photo, provided by the organizing committee for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, shows the emblem of the quadrennial competition. (Yonhap)

Along the way, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) hinted there was still room for negotiation, but Bettman said the matter was never an open issue.

Lee Hee-beom, president of PyeongChang's organizing committee, said he believed the NHL must have made the decision as part of an ongoing negotiation.

"I think the NHL is trying to take an upper hand in the negotiation," Lee said. "It's premature to say definitively that the NHL will not participate."

Lee added that he'll have discussions on the situation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, who will arrive in South Korea next Thursday to attend the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) World Taekwondo Championships in Muju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul.

Given the immense popularity of men's hockey in Winter Olympics, the absence of NHL stars will certainly affect ticket sales for PyeongChang.

The organizing committee for PyeongChang 2018 is expecting about 34.1 billion won (US$30 million) worth of ticket sales from both the men's and women's hockey tournaments. It accounts for nearly 20 percent of projected ticket sales.

An official with the organizing committee said any impact from the NHL's absence will be offset by corporate sponsors' mass purchase of tickets.

The official also said individual NHL players will still want to compete in the Olympics and that could force the hands of their clubs.

The NHL players made their Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, and have competed in every Olympics since. The Czech Republic won the gold medal in 1998, while Canada took the gold medals in 2002, 2010 and 2014. Sweden was the champion in 2006.

South Korea, ranked 21st in the world, earned an automatic berth in PyeongChang as the host, and has been paired with Canada (No. 1), the Czech Republic (No. 6) and Switzerland (No. 7) in the preliminary round. It will be South Korea's first Olympic appearance.

The involved parties have been haggling over the cost of the players' travel and insurance, and the NHL team owners in particular have been concerned about injuries to star players at a point in the season when clubs are making playoff pushes. The 13-hour time difference between South Korea and the U.S. Eastern Standard Time zone has also been cited as an issue.

The IIHF recently offered to pay for travel and insurance, after the IOC refused to pick up the tab, but the NHL reportedly wanted more concessions.

In these Associated Press file photos, Canadian National Hockey League players (from L to R) Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby and Drew Doughty skate during practice and NHL games. The NHL released a regular season schedule for the 2017-2017 season without any break to accommodate the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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