WASHINGTON -- Picture it: Instead of basketball shoes, the Olympic Dream Team wears ice skates, carries hockey sticks and slams pucks, rather than basketballs, into the net.
If NHL president-elect Gil Stein has his way -- and he will have at least a say -- that would happen in the 1994 Winter Olympics, with stars such as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky.
"Clearly the way to market the league is through the stars," said Stein, who was in Washington yesterday promoting his ideas for improving the NHL. "The National Hockey League has the greatest stars in all of sports. They need to be properly exposed in terms of their personality, as well as on the ice. They can get that exposure in the 1994 Olympics."
Stein, 64, was the chief legal counsel for the NHL for 15 years before taking over for John Ziegler on June 22 as the league's fifth and last president. Under the restructuring of the NHL, the new league head, once designated and approved, will receive the title of commissioner and the office of president will be retired.
In his quest to obtain the title of commissioner, Stein has been traveling to all the NHL cities in the United States and Canada.
Stein proposes to allow professionals to compete in the Olympics by starting the NHL season a week early and ending it two weeks late to compensate for a three-week break during the Olympics.
"Nothing is better for a star-quality hockey player than for them to exhibit their personality, skill and virtuosity on a world stage with everyone watching," he said. "It would give sports fans a chance to see hockey at its best, so we could deal with the break once every four years."
Stein also is trying to get exposure for the NHL on U.S. network television. Although no deal has been struck, he said he expects to have one to take to the NHL Board of Governors meeting Aug. 25.
"We have a group involved in negotiations with more than one significant network," Stein said. "National network television is a destiny we need to achieve. Hockey is the best sport and should be on TV."
Another question Stein is trying to answer is whether hockey fans would love the sport even without brawls. Fighting is illegal in hockey, as in other sports, but the punishment is less severe. The NBA's penalty for fighting is ejection; the NHL's is five minutes.
"The toughness in hockey comes from body-checking, not high-sticking," Stein said. "But the sticks aren't supposed to be used to inflict pain on others, rather used to pass the puck and shoot the puck.
"Fighting as a tactic is a bad thing. . . . Hockey fans are divided on the issue. Fifty percent want ejections automatically for fighting but love the game, nonetheless. The other 50 percent or so say we shouldn't change the rules, but if we did, they'd still love it."
Though Stein said fighting needs to be curtailed in the NHL, he said it does not damage the league's image.