(AP) NHL inches toward deal to send players to Olympics
By IRA PODELL
AP Sports Writer
NHL players are just a slap shot away from returning to the Olympics next year.
While a deal hasn’t been reached yet between the NHL, the union and the International Ice Hockey Federation, to send the league’s players to Sochi, a long meeting Monday pushed the sides much closer to an agreement.
Bettman, union leader Donald Fehr and IIHF President Rene Fasel met for more than five hours Monday at league headquarters to work on a deal that would allow NHL players to compete at the 2014 games in Russia. This would be the fifth Olympics for the NHL.
Not everything has been agreed to and the various sides need to meet internally to sign off on any pact. Still, Bettman called Monday’s session a “constructive meeting,” adding there are still “some I’s to dot and T’s to cross.”
Fasel headed to the airport following the meeting and planned to get together with various international groups beginning on Tuesday. Fehr will brief the players during multiday union executive board meetings next week.
When pressed for a timeline to get a deal done, Bettman responded with an emphatic, “Soon. Very soon.”
The biggest challenge the NHL faces every time the Olympics come is the need to stop the hockey season for several weeks in order for its players to go. That is even more of a factor this time because the Olympics are taking place one year after a lengthy lockout wiped out nearly half of the hockey regular season.
While the Olympic exposure is good for the NHL, breaking up another season in February is hardly ideal.
Bettman declined to get into specifics of what still needs to be worked out. But it was certainly a positive to see all three men standing side by side outside the NHL offices _ a far cry from last year during the lockout when Bettman and Fehr were on opposite sides and held separate news conferences on the street.
Fehr agreed with Bettman this time that only smaller details have to be ironed out before a final deal can be reached.
Fasel, from Switzerland, joked that an agreement could already have been in place if the talks weren’t held in English.