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TORONTO (Reuters) - The National Hockey League will weigh the benefits of playing at the 2022 Beijing Olympics before committing to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday.
Bettman, speaking at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference and Trade Show in Toronto, said he expects a decision on NHL participation at PyeongChang to come within the next year but the league's focus may well be on 2022 and a chance to gain a foothold in the Chinese market.
"The question is would the fact that the Winter Olympics in Beijing introduce that country to hockey and give us an opportunity to make a real impression in China, where hockey is really in an embryonic state?" Bettman said on NHL.com.
"That's a discussion we have to have to determine whether or not there is an opportunity to grow the game in China by using the Winter Games with NHL players as a catalyst.
"That's the question. I don't know the answer."
Bettman said the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) wants the NHL to decide on the 2022 and 2018 Winter Games at the same time and could announce a decision before next year's World Cup of Hockey, to be staged in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.
The NHL has shut down operations mid-season to free players to compete at the last five Winter Games but franchise owners have lost some enthusiasm for the Olympics, because many players have returned to NHL competition injured or tired, thereby hurting their teams in the push towards the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The league has sought numerous concessions from the both the IIHF and International Olympic Committee, including a greater say in how the tournament in run and access to Olympic trademarks and archives to help promote the game.
"Two have been in North America -- one in Salt Lake City (2002), one in Vancouver (2010) -- and certainly our Olympic experiences as a league in those two Olympics happened to be more favorable than they were when the Olympics were far away," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
"The commissioner was alluding to the fact that with Beijing being awarded the 2022 Games, it does change the equation a little bit for us.
"Certainly, we view growth of our fan base and into markets where we might not have been before to be a priority for the league, and that may create opportunities to kind of build hockey's profile in Asia, which ultimately is a long-term goal of the League."
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both