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NHL-less Olympics possible

LOS ANGELES – While the NHL and NHL Players Association squabble over last season’s hockey-related revenue and future realignment, Rene Fasel watches from afar and hopes their disagreements won’t spill over to include NHL players’ participation in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Fasel, president of the Switzerland-based International Ice Hockey Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board, avidly supports NHL players’ competing in the Winter Games. He helped negotiate the deal that allowed NHL stars to represent their homelands for the first time at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, making it a marquee event there and in Salt Lake City; Turin, Italy; and Vancouver, British Columbia.

However, future Olympic participation must be determined by the NHL and the union through collective bargaining. With the current labor deal expiring Sept. 15 and nothing in the air but hostility, prospects are dicey that the NHL will again halt its season to send players to Sochi for exposure that’s not in prime time. The Games will take place Feb. 7-23, 2014.

“It’s difficult to tell you something now,” Fasel said by phone Monday. “We will see a little more during August and the summertime where the CBA negotiations go.”

Although he said he can’t comment on internal NHL matters, he clearly wants to see the league and union agree on returning to the Olympics. He has spoken about it with Donald Fehr, the union’s still-new executive director, and the league.

“For us, for sure it is very important they could come to an agreement to come to Sochi. It means a lot for our sport and it means a lot for the NHL,” Fasel said.

“As you know, we need to work on a schedule for Sochi. The IOC is asking about the playing format and the schedule of games for hockey and there is also figure skating and curling to take into account and we need to know how the format will be.”

He said he remains optimistic the NHL will send players but added that the IOC would have to know in 2013 so alternative plans could be made. If the NHL doesn’t send players, the U.S. and Canada would have to form teams from players in college or in Europe.

“In my mind it looks not too bad. I would say it could work,” he said. “We are looking at what would happen if they decide not to come. I will have discussions, especially with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. If the NHL says no, the national federations would be more under pressure than European federations because players are playing in leagues there.”

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