Bettman, Fehr, Fasel address future Olympic participation for NHL

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SOCHI, Russia — Let’s start with a direct quote from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman:

“I don’t want to get into what the pros and cons are for participating. Everybody knows them, and they’ve been debated ad nauseam. We are here because we think it’s great to be here today at this tournament. What comes next we’ll all have to figure out, as we’ve done each of the other times that the NHL players have participated.”

Because that, folks, is the most important takeaway from today’s press conference that featured Bettman, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr, and IIHF president René Fasel. Anyone who figured we’d learn something more definitive about the future of NHL participation in the Olympics was left disappointed, and was probably a bit naive to figure that in the first place.

“It’s nothing that’s been discussed. It’s nothing that will be discussed while we’re here in Sochi.” said Bettman of the potential to send NHLers to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

“From our standpoint, we have a process we go through,” said Fehr. “We have a significant time period which we talk to the players, digest what they have to say, figure out what they want, and then they tell me what they’d like me to do, and we try and make that happen. And that process will play out after the Games.”

The most entertaining part of today’s affair came near the end, when Fasel — a big supporter of maintaining NHL participation — said, “There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing.”

To which Bettman responded, “Except perhaps winning the Stanley Cup.”

So failing any actual hard answers, at least there were some laughs.

At this point, the ball seems very much in the court of the players. As we wrote last week, if NHLers want to keep coming to the Olympics, they need to make that clear.

“None of this moves forward at all, if it moves forward at all, if the players don’t want to play,” said Bettman. “The reason we’re here in the first instance is this is a game with a history and tradition of international competition and our players, NHL players, love representing their countries. And so, if the players ever said, ‘We’re not interested,’ we’re not going to ever force them to go.”

As for when the decision will be made? Fehr employed a famous legal phrase: “I think it will be done…with all deliberate speed. You do it as fast as you can, but in a democratic organization, you have to do it at the rate the players are prepared to do it. All the players.”

Bettman backed the time frame of six months that was proposed by deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“As a logistical matter, subject to what Don said, we don’t see why it couldn’t be done in that time frame,” said Bettman. “Frankly, if we’re going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible to use the advantages would be a good thing. And if we’re not going to participate, giving the various national federations an opportunity to adjust to that, giving them as much time as possible would be good.”

Related: NHL, NHLPA taking wait-and-see approach to 2018 Winter Olympics

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.