LOS ANGELES – The NHL and the players' union are deep in conversations about staging another World Cup of Hockey in two years.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that the league and the NHLPA have held "very substantive discussions" recently about the return of the tournament, which hasn't been held since 2004.
"I think it's important, and I think it's a great opportunity for the game," Bettman said before the Stanley Cup finals opener between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.
Bettman says the plans aren't "fully baked," but the hockey world has been talking for months about the return of the summer tournament, likely in September 2016.
The 2004 World Cup of Hockey was staged in seven cities in North America and Europe, with the final in Toronto.
Bettman also said the NHL's continued participation in the Olympics hasn't been discussed lately. After consecutive Winter Olympics in hockey hotbeds Canada and Russia, the 2018 Games are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which is widely perceived as an opportunity for the NHL's wary owners to move their valuable players away from Olympic participation, which resumed in Nagano, Japan, in 1998.
"That is something that ultimately we're going to have to resolve," Bettman said. "I'm not sure that we necessarily have to resolve it if and when we make a World Cup announcement. We'll see where the discussions go and where we are."
A World Cup would be lucrative to the NHL and the players' union, and it wouldn't require a three-week league shutdown in the middle of a season, as the Olympics do.
Bettman still believes NHL players should be able to play for their nations on a major stage, saying ice hockey has the greatest tradition of international play among all of North America's major team sports.
"It's something that we know is very important for our players to be able to represent their countries," Bettman said. "We understand that and we appreciate it. So yes, it's a great business opportunity, but it's also an opportunity to expand our fan base, to continue the growth and development of the game, and encourage young people to play the game, and ultimately develop at a caliber where the best players in the world will come to play in the NHL."
Bettman said the NHL isn't ready to reveal its slate of outdoor games for the 2014-15 season, But he confirmed that the success of the Dodger Stadium game in January allayed fears about staging games in most warm-weather cities.
The commissioner also said the NHL isn't planning imminent expansion, but is willing to listen to proposals. Seattle and Quebec City have been mentioned frequently as expansion targets, but both have significant problems as NHL homes.
Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer, who partnered with lead investor Chris Hansen last year in an attempt to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, is finalizing a deal to buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion. Hansen still hopes to build a large arena in Seattle to house teams from the NBA and the NHL, but has said he isn't interested in being a majority owner of an NHL team.
Bettman flew to Seattle during the playoffs to meet with city officials.
"Seattle seems to have the most number of people interested," Bettman said. "The fact is there's no building that's on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building. Based on what's happened to date, and the fact that his partner has now bought a different franchise, I don't know that there's any prospect of a building in Seattle.
"It's nice that there's interest, but there's really not a whole lot for us to do with it."
Small-market Quebec City is building the $400 million, 18,000-seat Quebecor Arena to be ready in September 2015. But the NHL's potential return to the former home of the Nordiques could further unbalance the league's makeup — particularly without an expansion to Seattle. The Eastern Conference has 16 teams, and the West has 14 after last summer's realignment.
"If we get to a point where there's enough interest in enough places that it warrants consideration, then the Board of Governors may well invoke a formal expansion process and we'll look at everything," Bettman said. "I don't think this is something you do on a piecemeal basis."