Jason Brough


‘Still lots of issues’ before NHL commits to Olympics: Bettman

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel said he had a “good discussion” Wednesday with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr about the world’s top hockey players participating in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.

“No hitting, and no elbows,” Fasel joked in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Bettman described the meeting as “constructive and candid.”

“Still lots of issues,” Bettman wrote in an email to the AP.

Fasel said his job is to raise funds for the players’ transportation and insurance. The International Olympic Committee does not want to cover those costs as it has the previous five Olympics. Fasel hopes to persuade the IOC to financially support the NHL’s participation.

“It is the only league that shuts down to participate in the Winter or Summer Olympics,” Fasel said.

Read more: Fasel says ’50-50′ chance NHL participates in 2018 Olympics

Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly declined to comment on a Sportsnet report indicating the league has offered to sign off on allowing players to go for gold in South Korea in exchange for the union not opting out of the collective bargaining agreement in September 2019, which would in effect extend the deal for three years.

“There have been some suggestions that could be construed that that discussion would be worth having,” Fehr told reporters in New York. “Obviously, we discuss that with players. We have begun that process, but we’re a long way from done.”

Bettman has said a decision would need to be made by early January at the latest, giving the league time to create its 2017-18 schedule with or without a two-plus week break for the Olympics.

Fasel isn’t in a rush.

“We can wait longer because we want to do all we can to keep best-on-best hockey in the Olympics,” Fasel said.

NHL and NHLPA officials recently visited the Olympic site in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and have deemed it suitable for international competition.

Read more: IOC says Jan. 15 is the deadline

Whether the world’s best hockey players go to South Korea in about 15 months is up to the league and union, though Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals has said he will go even if there isn’t an agreement.

The IOC spent about $14 million to cover travel and insurance costs for NHL players for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Fasel has said the bill would be about $10 million for the next Olympics because it won’t be necessary to charter planes to South Korea as it was to get players to Sochi.

The NHL hasn’t sounded eager about going to South Korea, but does appear very interested in tapping into China’s huge market in 2022.

“When the IOC awarded the Beijing Games, it certainly created a bigger opportunity than we thought existed potentially before,” Daly said in September. “But it is also possible that you don’t go to one Olympics and you do go to the other. I don’t think anybody has ruled that out as a possibility.”

Fasel has been trying to persuade national Olympic committees and hockey federations to donate funds to keep the game’s best players on the biggest stage in sports. He acknowledged the IIHF could possibly use some of the $40 million it gets from the IOC every four years and make cuts from its development programs for boys and girls.

“It’s not going to be easy to get this done, but that’s my job,” Fasel said.


Surprise scratch: Gostisbehere will sit versus Jets


The same day the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association named him the city’s Pro Athlete of the Year, Shayne Gostisbehere will be a healthy scratch when the Flyers host Winnipeg later this evening.

In explaining the surprising decision, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol repeatedly used the phrase “growth and development,” adding that people shouldn’t “make too much out of it,” that there are just a “few things we’re asking him to concentrate on.”

“He’ll be out of the lineup tonight,” Hakstol said, per NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman. “That’s a part of growth and development and part of our group in terms of accountability in our play overall.”

Gostisbehere is, of course, coming off a spectacular rookie season, one in which he finished second to Artemi Panarin in the Calder Trophy voting.

In 17 games this season, Gostisbehere has three goals and seven assists. In Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa, he logged 21:49 of ice time and finished plus-2.

Not surprisingly, Gostisbehere told reporters he was “a little taken aback” when he learned he wouldn’t be playing tonight.

Andrew MacDonald is expected to be activated off IR and take Gostisbehere’s spot in the lineup versus the Jets.

Stamkos out ‘indefinitely’ with knee injury


Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos “suffered a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee” during last night’s game in Detroit and “will remain out of the lineup indefinitely,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announced this afternoon.

“We are in the process of evaluating options for repair and rehabilitation and will release more information as it becomes available,” added Yzerman.

It was reported earlier today that Stamkos had been sent home from the Lightning’s road trip, which still has stops in Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Nashville.

Stamkos has nine goals and 11 assists in 17 games this season.

The 26-year-old forward has a well-documented history with injuries. He missed more than half of the 2013-14 regular season with a broken leg, and almost all of last year’s playoff run while dealing with ramifications from a blood-clotting issue.

New wave of fantastic Finns taking the NHL by storm


More than two decades after the “Finnish Flash” took the NHL by storm, a generation of Finns is building on Teemu Selanne’s unforgettable legacy.

Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets leads the NHL in goals at age 18 and is at the forefront of Finland’s infusion of young talent. Between the Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho, Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov, Edmonton Oilers’ Jesse Puljujarvi and San Jose Sharks’ Joonas Donskoi, this is arguably the strongest wave of Finnish forwards the league has seen.

Finland has a proud hockey program that produced Selanne, brothers Saku and Mikko Koivu and plenty of star defensemen and elite goaltenders. Now the Scandinavian country of 5.5 million people is churning out some of the fastest and most skilled young players around.

“There was a time, a couple of age groups, that we really didn’t have any superstars,” Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins said. “We really didn’t have any goal scorers or superstars coming. Now, it’s totally opposite. We have many of them coming up.”

Finland currently has as many NHL players (33) as it does indoor rinks, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation. By comparison, Canada has 3,250 rinks and the United States has 1,800.

“A country that big, you look at their sheer population and the numbers, it’s amazing the players they’re pumping out,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “Developmentally, they’re doing something right over there that’s leading to the success because it’s amazing based on the sheer numbers what they’re doing.”

Some of Finland’s best are 21 and under, and three of the top five picks in the 2016 draft were Finns: Laine at No. 2, Puljujarvi at No. 4 and defenseman Olli Juolevi to the Vancouver Canucks at No. 5.

That’s a long way from a weak 2009 draft that led the Finnish Ice Hockey Association to hold a summit, the result of which was a greater focus on individual skill development. Couple that with the influx of arenas to grow the game that followed Finland’s win at the 1995 world championship, and Finland has made a national commitment to growing faster, more skilled players to stack up against the world’s best.

“I’m really proud,” Donskoi said. “It’s great to see that, I think, Finnish hockey’s going the right direction.”

With 12 goals in his first 18 games, Laine is the poster boy for Finland’s incredible strides. He has drawn comparisons to Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, a three-time MVP who said Laine could score 50 or 60 goals if he continues to improve.

While Donskoi looked up to Selanne and the Koivu brothers, Laine considered Ovechkin his idol. Now he wants to be even better.

“I love the way he scores goals and he wants to score, but I don’t want to be exactly like him,” Laine said. “Yeah, of course, he has an amazing shot and (he’s) an amazing player, but I want to be myself. I have a lot to learn about everybody and take something from him, especially his shot. I think I have to grow that if I want to get to his level.”

Teammates think Laine has limitless potential, just like executives believe Barkov could be as good of a two-way player as three-time Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. Barkov is just 21.

Hurricanes coach Bill Peters has raved about how NHL-ready Aho is at 19 – well-rounded and committed to defense while also being able to pile up the points. Barkov credits coaches in Finland for developing smart players who don’t just look to score.

“They do everything that you’ll grow up as a good player and a good sportsman,” said Barkov, who had 59 points in 66 games last season. “They help you a lot, especially in the junior national team. Have a lot of meetings – tell us what to do and how to prepare for the games.”

Players from Finland’s biggest rival, Sweden, can’t help but notice the increase of top-end talent. Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom called this “a special generation” of Finns, and Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog believes it’s a good thing for the NHL and international hockey.

“They’ve always had such a good team, with the Koivus and Selannes and these guys,” said Landeskog, whose Finnish teammate Mikko Rantanen was the 10th pick in 2015. “They’ve always had a knack for putting out good goalies and now a lot of young guys coming up, too. I think it’s exciting.”

Finnish rookies in the NHL this season


Despite being smaller in size and budget than Canada, the U.S., Russia and Sweden, Finland has medaled at four of five Olympics with NHL players and six of the past 11 world championships. Given Laine and Co., the future is even brighter.

“It’s a really good generation we have coming out now,” Rantanen said. “We haven’t seen this kind of wave from Finland in a while.”

Taylor Hall to miss 3-4 weeks following knee surgery


Some frustrating news for the New Jersey Devils — winger Taylor Hall will miss 3-4 weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

The club announced today that Hall has been placed on injured reserve. The 25-year-old speedster has five goals in 14 games. He missed last night’s game in Dallas, where the surprising Devils extended their win streak to five.

The first overall draft pick in 2010, Hall has a long history of injuries, but he did play all 82 games for the Oilers last season, before he was traded to New Jersey on June 29.

The Devils have three games left on their road trip, all in California against the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks.