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NHL Olympic decision for 2026 appears headed for ‘reasonable timeline’

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -6

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 01: A puck sits on the Olympic rings logo during a women’s hockey practice session prior to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Shayba Arena on February 1, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The head of the International Ice Hockey Federation said Thursday that he would like a decision on NHL participation in the 2026 Olympics by the spring of 2024.

IIHF President Luc Tardif told reporters at the world junior championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that would give the parties involved two years to prepare for the Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by email it’s “likely a reasonable timeline” to make that call.

“I’m optimistic, but everybody has to do an effort to be there,” Tardif told the Canadian Press and others at the event. “You need to have the same rules as the other athletes. We are not a travel agency. We organize a competition.”

The league and its players’ association have agreed to participate in 2026 after skipping the past two Olympics, if they can reach a deal with the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee. The NHL did not participate in PyeongChang in 2018 after the IOC would not pay travel- and insurance-related costs as it did on five previous occasions from 1998-2014.

“If we discussed directly with the players — the players want to go — we would find a way,” Tardif said. “But it’s more complicated than that.”

NHL players were set to go in 2022 before pandemic-related schedule interruptions caused them to pull out. They have not competed in the Olympics since 2014 in Sochi.

The NHL and NHLPA had planned to host a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, but that was derailed by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, and they announced in November that another attempt would be made to hold the event in 2025.

Tardif said the IIHF isn’t a fan of the World Cup taking place in February because of the potential impacts on European leagues and how close it would be to the organization’s men’s world championships held in May — which is during the NHL playoffs.

“That’s a big problem for us,” Tardif said. “We prefer August, September, October.”

The last World Cup of Hockey was held in September 2016 in Toronto. The NHL from owners down would like to avoid that timing and prefer February, when players are already in game shape and the sports schedule in North America is clear, with the NFL season over.

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