NEWARK, N.J.—When Brendan Shanahan returned home from the Nagano Olympics, getting his body clock back on NHL time proved an insomniac nightmare. He spent those wee-of-the-night, eyes-wide-open hours watching infomercials on TV and, he later admitted, racking up credit-card charges for stupid stuff: Ginsu knives, slice-o-matics, total gyms, ShamWows.

Or maybe he was joking. In those days, the current Maple Leaf president cracked funny a lot.

In any event, if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman — a man of scant humour — were seeking yet another reason to turn up his nose at participation in the 2018 Olympics, he could claim he’s looking out for the best interest of players’ sleep patterns, with the Winter Games again in Far East Asia; even controlling their impulse spending habits.

Of course, Bettman doesn’t actually give a rat’s patootie about players. He is an owners’ guy and does their bidding more so than any other major domo of a North American professional sports league.

Coming up on two decades since the NHL’s readmission to the Olympic fold in Nagano 1998 — a long and bitter struggle it had been for the “pros” to gain entry — the league, via its board of poltroons, a.k.a. owners, has had a bellyful of a glamorama event that stuffs no dollars in its pocket.

The International Olympic Committee had previously set a Jan. 16 deadline for a get-off-the-pot decision on Pyeongchang.

The anti-Olympics faction can claim opposition to shutting down league play for three weeks in the middle of the season, but the collective grump is more mercenary in nature. Owners had no problem compressing the schedule this season to accommodate the totally underwhelming World Cup because that’s their putative marquee tournament, clearly envisioned as a substitute for the Olympics. Except way fewer fans than expected took the bait. The World Cup, with Sidney Crosby leading Canada to gold, was a gerrymandered affair of low-wattage hoopla.

Only the Olympics are the Olympics.

That appears to have no traction with the tone-deaf NHL, despite the preference of players and an overwhelming Olympics appetite among fans. Count Leafs GM — and general manager of Team USA in Nagano — Lou Lamoriello among the naysayers.

“I’m not personally in favour of it, only because of the timing, but I do understand what it has done for the game. I understand the international exposure. I understand the players wanting to participate, but there’s only a small percentage that do participate.

“I’m very concerned about the athletes when they leave here and the situations that can take place with the condensing of the schedule, and taking that time off during a peak part of the season. My personal feeling from the knowledge that I have would be not to go.”

The Leafs, Lamoriello hastens to add, have yet to take a formal position on the matter. “We haven’t even had any discussions internally. This is up to the executive committee and then the board of governors.’’

It beggars belief that the organization hasn’t kicked this around at its tallest forehead levels of pondering. For one thing, they’ve got a head coach in Mike Babcock who’s stewarded Team Canada to gold at the last two Winter Games and who speaks often about the privilege of representing one’s country. Were Canada to head for Pyeongchang in about 14 months’ time, it’s a good bet Babcock would be behind the bench again.

Shutting down the league in the dog days of winter doesn’t mean fewer games and lesser profits. A more genuine concern would be injuries suffered at the Olympics impacting NHL seasons — although a player could just as conceivably break a leg at any morning skate. (John Tavares, the Islanders’ best player, injured his knee in Sochi and didn’t appear in an NHL game for the rest of the season; Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg suffered a herniated disk at those Games and didn’t return to the Red Wings that year.)

Still, it’s downright deplorable that the NHL tried to extort the NHL Players’ Association — pro-Olympics — into a tit-for-tat arrangement, participation in exchange for extending the current collective agreement, which expires in 2022. Nuh-uh, responded union chief Donald Fehr, who nevertheless continues to express optimism that the players will be in situ in South Korea, comments he repeated during last weekend’s Centennial Classic in Toronto — even as Bettman iterated his view that “absent some compelling reason, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season.”

Compelling reason? How about because just nearly everybody, except for the 30 Lords of the NHL, is in favour. And that if growing the game is genuinely an ownership objective, then the biggest stage on Earth would be a good place to start — and stay. But the league has its knickers in a knot because the IOC is resisting payment on out-of-pocket expenses for NHL players in Pyeongchang — upwards of $10 million according to Bettman, which makes me think those are the deepest pockets in history — while the league is averse to the International Ice Hockey Federation potentially covering those expenses if the money would come out of funds earmarked for otherwise growing the game at the grassroots level.

Yet isn’t that precisely what Olympics inclusion does?

“In a perfect world, it’s a no-brainer,” said James van Riemsdyk of the Leafs, who was on Team USA in Sochi. “We want to go, especially in the two places they’re going to be.’’

Leafs D-man Morgan Rielly is among the younger coterie of NHLers who shone with Team Young Guns at the World Cup, but might now never get a chance to even dream on Olympic gold should the league stupidly withdraw.

“I mean, hockey in the Olympics for me was always the main event because you always watch Canada. All your favourite players were on that team. If it’s not there and the best players in the world can’t compete, it will certainly be different.

“If you ask the guys around the league, most will tell you they want to be there and they want to play. But there’s more things than just wanting to be there going on, I guess — the league, the owners. We have to come to a choice that makes everybody happy.’’

Teammate Nazem Kadri admits to some conflicted feelings, as an Olympics enthusiast and loyal company hand.

“I would never say no to the opportunity of representing my country,” said the 2010 world juniors graduate. “On the other hand, thinking of it from the perspective of management and owners, we’ve seen where guys have gotten hurt and been out for extended periods of time, unable to play for their main club.’’

And this, from teenage wonderkid Mitch Marner: “It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Olympics for their country. If it gets taken out and you might never get the chance, it’s definitely going to suck.’’

Don’t call it the Ballon d’Or! Who will win FIFA’s annual accolade at the award ceremony on Monday, January 9?

FIFA’s newly-renovated World Player of the Year will be handed out on Monday, January 9 at The Best FIFA Football Awards 2016.

One in, one out as Man Utd change GKs

But who will win, what trophies will be given out and why is it not called the Ballon d’Or any more? Goal explains all…


France Football ran the Ballon d’Or from 1956 until 2009 before merging with FIFA’s World Player of the Year for the 2010 edition. For the next six years the prestigious trophy was given as part of an increasingly popular event.

But Gianni Infantino’s new FIFA presidential regime – ushered in after Sepp Blatter’s undignified exit among relentless corruption allegations – opted to sever ties with the Ballon d’Or. From 2016 onwards, FIFA will be flying solo with their newly-branded ‘The Best’ award ceremony in January every year.

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Cristiano Ronaldo (winner in 2008) and Lionel Messi (winner in 2009) dominated the FIFA Ballon d’Or landscape, with the Real Madrid star winning twice and his Barcelona rival being crowned triumphant four more times.

The winner of this reborn FIFA award will be decided by a combination of factors: 50 per cent of the vote is decided by votes by captains and coaches for every national team and 50% to be split by online voters and selected international journalists.

The ‘new’ Ballon d’Or was awarded to Ronaldo last month, a few weeks after being crowned Goal 50 winner.


Ronaldo is the overwhelming favourite to win the award of the three finalists having conquered the Champions League, Euro 2016 and the Club World Cup last year.

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Messi’s mesmerising performances for Barcelona and Argentina ensure he’s a contender once again this year. Antoine Griezmann reached two European finals in 2016, enjoying a breakout year at Atletico Madrid and for France. Both are outsiders to trump Ronaldo to the FIFA award.


The 23 nominees for the FIFA World’s Best Player of the Year were (finalists in bold): Sergio Aguero (Manchester City/Argentina), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid/Wales), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus/Italy), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid/Portugal), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City/Belgium), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/France), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United/Sweden), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona/Spain), N’Golo Kante (Chelsea/France), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid/Germany), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City/Algeria), Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina), Luka Modric (Real Madrid/Croatia), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany), Neymar (Barcelona/Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal/Germany), Dimitri Payet (West Ham/France), Paul Pogba (Manchester United/France), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid/Spain), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal/Chile), Luis Suarez (Barcelona/Uruguay), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City/England).


Best FIFA Men’s Player 2016 – The award for best male footballer in the world last year.

Best FIFA Women’s Player 2016 – The award for best female footballer in the world last year. The three finalists are Melane Behringer (Bayern Munich/Germany), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/USA) and Marta (FC Rosengard/Brazil).

Mourinho confirms Lindelof deal is off

Best FIFA Men’s Coach 2016 – The award for the best coach of male teams last year. The three finalists are Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City), Fernando Santos (Portugal) and Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid).

Best FIFA Women’s Coach 2016 – The nominees for best coach of the female teams last year are Jill Ellis (United States), Silvia Neid (Germany) and Pia Sundhage (Sweden).

FIFA Puskas Award 2016 – The award for the best goal of 2016. The full list of the nominees – including Messi and Neymar – can be watched by clicking here.

FIFA Fair Play Award 2016 – The award for the best moment of fair play last year. Previous winners have included Barcelona, World Cup 2006 fans, Paolo Di Canio and – last year – all football organisations supporting refugees.

FIFA Fan Award 2016 – A new supporter award that will be won by one of these three nominees: ADO Den Haag fans, Borussia Dortmund/Liverpool fans (one single entry) and Iceland fans.

FIFA FIFPro World11 – The award for the best 11 players from across the globe in a standard formation. Almost 25,000 players from an estimated 70 countries voted, according to FIFPRO, the worldwide union for professional footballers.


American actress Eva Longoria and German presenter Marco Schreyl will be hosting FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award ceremony in Zurich.

Man City horror at Aguero meme

The hype will build on Monday afternoon with the ceremony kicking off at 17:30 UK time (12:30 US East Coast time) with the “green carpet” guiding in some of football’s most recognisable faces.

You’ll be able to follow the ceremony on Goal’s LIVE blog and get every update instantly on our social channels.