By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - The chances of the National Hockey League shutting down to allow players to compete at the 2018 Winter Games continue to dim, said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on Tuesday as the decision deadlines fast approaches.
Daly, one of the chief negotiators in the Olympic talks, refused to handicap the chances of the NHL being in Pyeongchang, South Korea, saying only that he was less optimistic than Rene Fasel, when told the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president had pegged the odds at 50-50.
"I'm not sure there has been a lot of progress made in the past six months and I'm not sure there is any prospect of any progress being made," said Daly, speaking ahead of Game One of the best-of-three World Cup final between Canada and Team Europe in Toronto.
"So on the basis of that I would say, I'm more negative today than I was two weeks ago."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was less forthcoming but backed his deputy pointing out that negotiations were currently at standstill with no firm dates set for resuming discussions.
"I'm not going to disagree with him (Daly)," said Bettman. "The last discussion we had, which was months ago, we haven't really seen any progress.
"The discussions are at a point where the IOC has made its position clear and I think it is fair to say IIHF and Rene Fasel is trying to figure out what to do."
For the moment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has drawn a line in the sand saying no longer is it willing to cover insurance and travel costs for NHL players which have been widely estimated at around $10 million.
Increasingly unhappy about shutting down operations in the middle of the season and turning their most valuable assets over to national team duty, NHL owners believe they are seeing little return on their Olympic investment.
The World Cup could provide a legitimate alternative to the Olympics but Bettman insisted that the success or failure of the event will not impact the league's Winter Games decision.
However, with plans to make the World Cup an every-four-year event, the NHL and NHL Players Association have positioned the showcase to become hockey's prime global property, lessening the need for the Olympic spotlight.
"In terms of tangible metrics the Olympic participation hasn't really done a whole lot for the National Hockey League and for the clubs," said Daly. "It's obviously a big global stage, probably the top global stage but it hasn't translated to our business."
Hockey fans can expect plenty of brinkmanship in the coming months that will set the stage for some tough negotiations which Daly said he hopes will be completed before the end of the year.
(Editing by Andrew Both)