Hockey fans waiting for a decision on NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will not got a positive answer for a while. Sources tell Usual Suspects that, even if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman receives the concessions he wants from the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, a final decision may have to await as late as the next collective agreement with players, expected in 2012-13.
After watching the NHL's presence marginalized in previous Olympics, Bettman is looking for concessions on a number of issues if the league is to shut down for almost three weeks of travel and play in 2014. While money is important (the NHL is not compensated for the use of its players) sources say that the league still has equal concerns about security, medical, insurance, communications and accommodation issues for the NHL players who would travel to Sochi in the midst of the 2013-14 season. All can be deal breakers in what is considered a risky region of the world for an Olympics.
One condition of NHL participation was answered last month when NBC Universal - the league's broadcast partner in the U.S. - won the rights for the next four Olympics till 2020. But it's no secret that Russian (and many European) NHL players want to participate in the Games, and that a withdrawal from the Olympics by the league would precipitate a conflict within the National Hockey League Players' Association. The Russian players are contractually bound to their NHL clubs, but the prospect of missing an Olympics in the home country would not be well received in Russia.
"There is going to be another revolution in Russia," Continental Hockey League co-founder Igor Kuperman told a hockey summit in 2010. "People forgot about 1917. It's going to be another one. It is impossible to imagine [the NHL will not send its players to Sochi] but there is always a Plan B."
Of course, if the IOC and IIHF aren't forthcoming, fans won't have to wait as late as the next contract negotiations to hear that the league will miss its first Games since 1998. But with so much at stake - the Olympics are considered one of the principal achievements of Bettman's administration - don't expect anything impulsive from the league.
Now that the Winnipeg Jets have a name, a general manager and a head coach, the club can get about the job of selling regional TV and radio rights. NHL sources indicate that the Jets will receive a territorial exemption that includes Manitoba along with parts of northern Ontario and eastern Saskatchewan. It's believed that the reborn franchise will have a chance to choose from among TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and possibly the new Global/Shaw entity as a partner.
TSN and Sportsnet would likely have to create alternate channels to handle the Jets games - much as TSN did with Montreal Canadiens and Sportsnet has done with the three western NHL clubs. But Global could offer primetime exposure on its stations in the protected territory. What is certain is that, with the telecommunications companies conducting a costly war, the Jets could not have chosen a better time to be selling their TV package.
On radio, it's expected that the rights will go to either CJOB, former home of the Manitoba Moose, or Sports Radio 1290, which broadcasts minor-league baseball's Winnipeg Goldeyes. While CJOB would promise the stability of an established station, Radio 1290 could devote almost 24 hours a day to promoting the Jets. Bell Inc., the owner of Radio 1290, recently helped Montreal's Team 990 wrest the Canadiens' rights from long-time home CJAD.
KRYSTAL, NOT CLEAR
Andrew Krystal is out - again - at Toronto's Sportsnet Radio The Fan 590. Krystal was relieved of his hosting 1-4 p.m. gig last Wednesday and a replacement is now being sought by the station. Krystal, who was doing talk radio in Halifax before being hired by Fan 590 program director Don Kollins last year, was tried in three time slots - morning drive, 9 a.m.-12 p.m., 1-4 p.m. - during the past year. Sources tell Usual Suspect that while Krystal is out at The Fan, he may yet find a spot in one of Rogers's other outlets.
In the recent BBM ratings, Krystal was the only major Fan host to lose his time slot to TSN Radio 1050 - where ESPN Radio's Dan Patrick was the competition. While there are questions about how Krystal's edgy style adapted to Toronto sports radio, Kollins's scatter-gun approach to hiring and firing Krystal speaks more about the direction the station is taking than it does about the veteran host.
Krystal's ouster has once again opened up a slot on his schedule without an immediate replacement. It took Kollins almost nine months to permanently replace Don Landry/Gord Stellick with Greg Brady/Jim Lang after firing the former pair on morning drive this time last year. A request for comment from The Fan was not answered by press time.
The NHL is expected to announce its new European TV package in the next two weeks. The league has moved away from a single carrier in ESPN Europe to individual carriers in the dozen or so European nations. The idea is to better design and implement wireless, portable and custom services for those countries. This would make possible a package whereby Finnish fans could subscribe to a package that delivers highlights of all the Finnish players in the league on a daily or weekly basis.