The 2018 Olympics in South Korea has been a bone of contention between the NHL owners, who don't want the season interrupted, and their players.
Speaking to assembled media at the Centennial Classic on New Year's Day, NHL Players Association head Donald Fehr expressed optimism that players will be able to participate.
I'm more optimistic now that I ever have been, at least as far as we're concerned, that we'll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go... "You get a sense of things as they go along, you get a sense of things and how they're likely to end up; doesn't mean you're always right, but you get a sense of things.
The situation is a complicated one on both sides.
NHL owners are concerned about the expenses of interrupting the NHL season for the Olympics (including travel, lodgings and insurance), which the IOC has said it would not reimburse after doing so for previous Winter Games.
There's also the question of player health, with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman articulated in his remarks the same day.
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 three almost weeks off during the season. We've been there, done that five times and while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different, when you're halfway around the world [in Pyeongchang] it's not the easiest thing to have in our season. Not just the risk of injury ... the compression to the regular season is something that concerns us.
The NHL had previously offered to include a group of international games in the schedule (Olympics, World Cup of Hockey, etc) in exchange for a three-year extension of the current CBA.
The players union rejected that proposal, but Fehr suggested an agreement could be reached that would allow a "long-term international program" independent of the CBA. He also said he was hopeful that the sides could negotiate for the IIHF to cover expenses associated with NHL players participating in the Winter Games.
At some point, the back-and-forth over these Olympics has to end. There's no real firm deadline, though ESPN reports that involved parties believe a decision must come by the end of January.
The verdict here really matters to the Capitals. Capitain Alex Ovechkin, for one, has said he will play for team Russia regardless of whether the NHL participates. He joked that he could even be retired by 2018. Hopefully, if Fehr has his way, that won't have to happen.
Ovechkin has the backing of Capitals owner Ted Leonsis on his decision.
Other team cornerstones routinely represent their countries in international competition as well. Nicklas Backstrom is a perennial member of team Sweden, while starting goalie Braden Holtby represented team Canada in the recent World Cup of Hockey.
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