WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. B — WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The NHL has offered to help hockey officials in the Soviet Union keep the structure of their sport viable after the collapse of the sport support system in their country.
"We're available for advice and counsel," NHL president John Ziegler said yesterday.
"The problem is they need money and we don't have a lot of extra money lying around, but we do have experience and knowledge in the area and would be happy to share it with them."
Ziegler said he does not expect the abolition of Gossport, the government agency that funded and controlled sports in the country to result in a rush of Soviet players to the NHL.
For one thing, contractual obligations will prevent that.
"For the last year or so, many of the contracts the players have been signing have been with the clubs and not Gossport or the federation," Ziegler said.
Ziegler said NHL clubs will continue to honor contracts between private Soviet hockey clubs and their players.
The NHL has no formal arrangement with Soviet players and Gossport, but has left it up to the individuals and NHL clubs to negotiate deals with the Soviet clubs.
The end of Gossport on Friday was a major topic among those at the NHL meetings which ended yesterday.
NHL people also worried about the effect developments in the Soviet Union will have on the league's talent search.
The NHL has dipped more frequently into the pool of Soviet talent in recent years, and 17 Soviet players are now under
contract to teams in the league.
"We have to wait a bit to see what impact it has on the future exchanges of teams as well as player development," Ziegler said. "I'd be surprised if the republics of Russia and the Ukraine didn't follow Latvia, where they're working to maintain their athletic programs like soccer and hockey."
Cliff Fletcher, Toronto Maple Leafs president, wasn't surprised at the dissolution of the Soviet sports system.
"That's been gradually coming about in hockey over there," Fletcher said. "That's why there's been such an exporting of hockey players for hard currency."
Fletcher said that private Soviet hockey clubs will have to become more self-sufficient like their North American counterparts of the NHL.
"They'll continue to operate," he said. "They always do. They'll have to market their product like we do, sell tickets, get gate receipts."
NOTES: The NHL has targeted the year 2000 for the next expansion date, adding 4 teams, jumping from 24 to 28. Although Ziegler said the faltering economy has not affected the current status of the 2 expansion teams, he did express concern for the intended timetable of future expansion. "If substantial problems in the financial world continues the next 2 to 3 years that would affect the timing of expansion," Ziegler said. "The tremendous amount of failures and collapses of financial institutions aspect is a bigger interference than the recession." . . . The realignment issue will be further debated at a Jan. 9 meeting at an unspecified location. A two-thirds majority vote of the 22 present teams is needed for final approval. . . . The board approved a proposal by Steve Ryan, president of NHL Enterprises, for the league to assume autonomy over the league's growing product licensing business, thus joining other professional sports leagues. The move ends a 13-year relationship with Time Warner Sports Merchandising, formerly known as LCA Sports.