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Bettman concerned arena for 2026 Olympics won't be ready

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The NHL is still working toward making its return to the Olympics for the 2026 Games in Milan, but commissioner Gary Bettman expressed some apprehension about construction progress for the Italian arena Tuesday.

"Not insignificantly, they have a lot of work to do," Bettman said at the league's board of governors meetings, according to Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli.

"I don't think they've actually begun construction on it, which is a matter of some concern. We know it's important to the players to go and we want to make it happen. We're going to be as flexible as we can, but at some point, we've got to do a schedule for that season."

Bettman noted he's not worried about reaching deals with the International Olympic Committee or IIHF on previous roadblocks that have kept the NHL from participating in the Games, including insurance and accommodations for families.

"You know, normally when you build a building for the Olympics for a hockey tournament, it's done a year in advance, it's done a year in advance and you have time to have events and test it and build the ice," Bettman said.

"They're projecting that it won’t be done until the fourth quarter of '25, which is like six or eight weeks before the Olympics - if they're on time. And I think they're already late. But that’s nothing we can control."

The NHL sent its players to five Olympics from 1998 to 2014 but didn't do so in 2018 or 2022. The league and its players' association agreed to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Games as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, but the pandemic prevented the world's best from suiting up in Beijing.

The head of the IIHF said in January he would like an answer from the NHL about the 2026 Olympics by the spring of 2024.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly admitted the current arena situation isn't ideal, but there are alternative options if the Milan rink isn't done in time.

"Going to the Olympics without participating in the Olympic experience is a problem, I would think," he said. "But it's ongoing, it's been productive. I can't say I'm pessimistic at all."

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