An agreement to allow National Hockey League players to represent their home countries in Sochi might have drawn closer to finalization this week, but an agreement has not yet been settled.
The NHL, NHLPA, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee met Friday in New York City to iron out details surrounding NHL players’ participation in the Olympic men’s ice-hockey tournament:
Hockey Central insider John Shannon says that the principals of the respective organizations were all in attendance: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly; NHLPA chief Donald Fehr; IIHF president René Fasel and vice president Bob Nicholson (also president and CEO of Hockey Canada); and longtime IOC member Richard Carrion.
The key issues remaining to be resolved surround travel and insurance.
“We had a good working session and were able to discuss all of the issues involved in the possibility of having NHL Players participate in the 2014 Sochi Games," Daly said via an emailed statement. "The parties are committed to continuing to work through the process, but there remains work to be done on all sides.”
The Canadian Press reported Monday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is urging Bettman to let the league's stars skate in the 2014 Games.
Representatives of both the NHL and IIHF traveled to Russia last month to meet with the IOC and Sochi’s local organizing committees.
“This was a very good couple days of site visits of the Olympic venues and infrastructure, followed by some good discussions with the NHL representatives,” Fasel wrote to sportsnet.ca after those mid-March talks. “I remain optimistic about the NHL’s participation in Sochi and I hope that we can come to an agreement latest beginning of May, which would be good for the teams as to which players to select for the World Championships.
“It must be said that many challenges remain and that this is more than just an IIHF-NHL issue. We have also the IOC, the NHLPA, the Sochi organizers, the National Olympic Committees and the national ice hockey associations. There lots of co-ordinating to be done.”
Since NHLers began participating in the Winter Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the league has suspended its schedule midseason – and cancelled the revenue-generating All-Star Game – to accommodate the international competition.
Last Wednesday, Wayne Gretzky explained to Hockey Central why it's important for NHL stars to be involved next winter.
“Since 1972, we’ve never sent our best players over to Russia,” Gretzky said. “The fans in Russia deserve to see Canada’s best and the United States’ best go and compete at a high level.”
With Pyeongchang, South Korea, set to host the following Winter Games, Gretzky believes Sochi might be the last time that North American professionals play in the tournament.
“Probably this could be the last Olympic Games that our guys go to because Korea in 2018, it’s just so difficult to fly all the way down there, stop the season for two-and-a-half weeks and come back and jump back into the regular-season pace,” Gretzky said. “So maybe I am wrong but this could be one of the last times you see professional hockey players playing at the Olympic Games.”