NHL holds fire on whether to release players for 2018 Games

Tue Feb 18, 2014 6:56am EST
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By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The National Hockey League (NHL) was non-committal about players' future participation in the Olympics on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the Sochi Games might be the last to showcase the world's best players.

The three most powerful men in hockey - Rene Fasel, head of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association chief Donald Fehr - had no firm answers for reporters when asked whether NHL players would be back in four years' time.

"Yes, Rene would love for Don and I to say today that we are coming (to Pyeongchang), but he knows that's not the case," said Bettman. "This is the fifth time we have participated in the Olympic tournament - where we are in this process should not be a shock to anybody."

In North America, talk persists that Sochi will mark the final time that NHL players will be seen on Olympic ice. Bettman insisted nothing has been decided and negotiations would continue, as has been the case after every Winter Games.

"Let's try to be very clear, it's nothing that's been discussed, it's nothing that will be discussed while we are here in Sochi," said Bettman.

"All of us are here to enjoy this competition, and while I have seen lots of commentary over the last couple of weeks the fact of the matter is there isn't anything that has been said in the last two weeks that hasn't been said the last eight years."

Since NHL players were first welcomed into the Olympics at Nagano in 1998, the league's relationship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been a complicated and often tumultuous one.

The NHL has refused to make a long-term commitment to the Games and indications are that team owners no longer believe the worldwide exposure they gain from competing is worth shutting the league down for two weeks in the middle of the season and handing over their players to the IOC.   Continued...

National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) Executive Director Donald Fehr, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel and National Hockey League (NHL) Commissioner Gary Bettman (L-R) pose for a picture after a joint news conference at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young