The head of the National Hockey League's players union said he'll take an informal poll of players this fall before committing them to play in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
National Hockey League Players Association Executive Director Bob Goodenow said some players told him that they don't want to play in the Olympics after the disastrous experience in February at the winter games in Nagano, Japan."There was a wide reaction from the negative to the positive," Goodenow said. "The players are looking at it, and we'll be talking about it in the months to come."
Goodenow's comments come after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that he'll seek concessions from Olympic organizers before committing the league to the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. The NHL's concerns include shortening the regular-season break needed to play in the Olympics, access for NHL officials and moving Olympic contests from a smaller arena to the Delta Center, which has a larger seating capacity, NHL spokesman Frank Brown said.
Brown said the NHL won't return to the Olympics under the same conditions as those in Nagano. "Things will have to be a lot better than they were the last time," Brown said.
The U.S. Olympic Committee said it hasn't been contacted by the league or the union, although a USOC spokesman said hockey will be played at the Winter Olympics with or without NHL players.
"We'd love to have the NHL players because we want the best athletes at the Olympics," said USOC spokesman Mike Moran. "But if they don't want to come, we'll bring whomever comes to the dance."
Although Goodenow said he hasn't set a deadline for a decision on the Olympics, he'll try to get a consensus from players when he visits training camps before the season opens in October.
Brown said the NHL will decide by the end of this year whether to send players to the Olympics. While the move would have to be approved by the players' union to take effect, Brown said the league is conducting an extensive study on returning.
The NHL failed miserably in Nagano to reach its goals: driving up interest in the game and television ratings. It was the first time NHL players participated in an Olympics.
The league's national television agreement could expire at the end of next season. The U.S. and Canada, the two Olympic teams with the most NHL players participating, didn't make the medal round and the league's image was tarnished when some U.S. players trashed dormitory rooms in the Olympic Village.
Goodenow and Bettman had said after the games that they both expected NHL players to play in the 2002 Olympics.