By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
With one final flick, Sidney Crosby’s 2010 overtime goal won Canada the gold medal and elicited national pride to the host country.
But will it stand as the last goal scored by an NHL player in the Olympics?
The nasty labor dispute long settled, the NHL can now focus on another lingering issue that needs a quick resolution. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have yet to agree with the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation to participate in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
With the opening ceremony set for Feb. 7, 2014, the countdown clock for the first faceoff is ticking.
The 2014 Games, which run through Feb. 23, will feature more than 3,000 athletes. Players like Crosby, New York’s Rick Nash, Carolina’s Eric Staal, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and so many other All-Stars would love another shot at putting on the Olympic sweater for their home country.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, a likely Team USA candidate, is one of the hopefuls that said the NHL should play again in 2014.
“I think the fans want to see that,” he said. “I think the players realistically would want to go do that. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think we’d all be in favor of it.”
The NHL has participated in every Olympics since the Nagano Games in 1998. All sides were set to meet Thursday and Friday in New York as they work toward a deal that would ensure the world’s best players would again be showcased on sport’s grandest stage.
The idea that the Olympics would be held in Russia, home of the KHL, with the NHL frozen out seems tough to imagine. After all, some of the league’s top players are from Russia or have ties to the KHL.
But there could be some stumbling blocks toward a deal.
IIHF president Rene Fasel has been adamant that the games will go on with the NHL players. After the rousing success and elevated ratings in Vancouver, Fasel stated it, “would be wrong for the game, for the fans, not having the best players in Sochi.”
While the NHL might roll its eyes at Fasel’s public baiting, he hasn’t backed off his stance. On a recent interview with CBC television, Fasel said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, “has no other choice,” but to come to Sochi.
That probably didn’t help his cause with the NHL. Because Bettman does have another choice – and plenty of reasons – to keep the NHL home next winter.
This is a commissioner with three lockouts, including one canceled season, on his watch. Skipping the Olympics would be a footnote on his resume.
Bettman is again concerned about shutting down the NHL season during the Olympics. He also has doubts about an Olympics in which the hockey would be played at a time when many North American fans would be asleep.
The NHL also is unhappy at ceding control of its players to the IOC and being barred from using Olympic highlights on its website. The league also receives no revenue from the telecasts and has no say on which cable station carries games. The NHL Network does not air games and most of the Vancouver games where shuffled off rights-holder NBC to its secondary channels.
The NHL, of course, makes no money during the league shutdown and elite players are at risk of injury that could derail a Stanley Cup run. Of course, disruptions to the schedule and concerns of injuries abroad didn’t prevent the league from locking out players in 2012.
In the end, the players want to represent their countries – and, yes – their NHL teams and the league as a whole at the Olympics.
The NHL needs the approval of the NHLPA to commit to the Olympics – and that seems as guaranteed as an empty-net goal from the crease. The players want to play. After Vancouver, Russian stars like Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin even threatened to bail on their NHL teams to play for their countries. That’s a drastic warning, one that probably won’t be followed through, but must be addressed as the sides work on 2014 logistics.
Olympic hockey does spur interest in the NHL and TV ratings show more eyeballs are on the gold medal game than some recent Stanley Cup series.
Fans want stars in Russia. Players love to going for gold.
Expect them to all get their wish for 2014.
AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story.
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