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NHL’s decision on Olympic participation has to come before mid-January

The NHL has until Jan. 15 to come to an agreement with the IOC, but whether the NHL decides to go or not, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis says he'll support Alexander Ovechkin.

While there’s been some negativity on the side of both the NHL and the International Olympic Committee about the possibility of getting the world’s best players together in Pyeongchang, there’s still more than three months for the two sides to come to an agreement that would see NHL players participate at the 2018 Olympics.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC's executive director of the Olympic Games, told the Associated Press that no firm decision has to be made with the NHL until Jan. 15, at which point the deadline will have passed for the NHL and IOC to reach an agreement on participation. And there is some good news, too, for those hoping to see the NHL send its players to the games, as Dubi said the NHL is planning to visit Pyeongchang at some point in October.

"We definitely always try to have the participation of the best athletes,” Dubi told the Associated Press. “It is reassuring that NHL is coming to Pyeongchang and especially look at the operations in Gangneung…Until (Jan. 15) it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that's for both Pyeongchang and Beijing.”

The news of the NHL’s visit to Pyeongchang — and the deadline of Jan. 15 — comes less than two weeks after the World Cup of Hockey final, before which NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said his feeling towards participation was negative than it had been in early September.

"I'm not going to handicap it, but what I'd say is I think time is very short to make a decision and I'm not sure there's been a lot of progress made in the past six months," Daly said, according to the Canadian Press’ Jonas Siegel. "And I'm not sure there's any prospect of progress being made.”

Among the reported issues with the NHL’s participation in the games has been the costs of travel and insurance, a huge expense that the league likely doesn’t want to have to cover in order to send its player and shut down operations for a two-week period. Daly said that it plays a part in the making of the schedule, and the hope was to get an Olympic deal done as soon as possible.

In August, commissioner Gary Bettman said that discussions about the Olympics weren’t on the “front burner,” and the serious discussions would likely wait until winter, and IIHF president Rene Fasel said in May that he believed there was a greater chance of the NHL skipping the 2018 Games than there was of league participation. However, ahead of the World Cup final, Bettman said Fasel was still working on it.

"The discussions are at a point where the IOC has made its position clear and I think its fair to say the IIHF, Rene Fasel, is trying to figure out what to do," Bettman said, according to Siegel.

Some players have been outspoken about their desire to play in the Olympics, and none more than Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. On a few occasions, Ovechkin has said that regardless of the NHL’s participation, he’ll play in the games, and he received the support of owner Ted Leonsis on Friday.

“My commitment to (Alex and his family) was, I will always do what’s in Alex’s best interest, and I said it 10 years ago, I’ll say it today,” Leonsis told Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt. “If Alex Ovechkin says, This is really important to me to go represent and play for my country, I’m going to support him. What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll get fined or something. I hope it doesn’t get to that. But I’ve got to have my captain’s back, and I will.”

Even if the league doesn’t participate in the Pyeongchang games, though, speculation has been that the league could return again come 2022 when the Olympics are set to be played in Beijing, China. The last Olympics to not feature NHL players was 1994 in Lillehammer.

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