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NHLPA’s Donald Fehr ‘more optimistic’ than ever about Olympic participation

The NHL and NHLPA haven’t yet reached a decision regarding Olympic participation, and while commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t offer much hope, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said he feels optimistic about the league sending players to the 2018 Games.

The NHL shutting down its season for at least a couple of weeks in February 2018 to send players to the Olympics still isn’t a sure thing, but amidst speculation about the NHL’s Olympic participation and a deadline for the decision that is reportedly right around the corner, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr seems to feel as though discussions are heading in the right direction.

Ahead of the Centennial Classic between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings in Toronto on Sunday, Fehr spoke with media and when asked about the league allowing players to suit up at the 2018 Games, he seemed hopeful that the world’s best players would be allowed to participate at the tournament.

"I'm more optimistic now than I ever have been, at least as far as we're concerned, that we'll be able to reach an appropriate agreement with the IIHF to allow for the players to go," Fehr said, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

Fehr added that he believes discussions will continue over the next few weeks and he feels he has “a sense of things and how they’re likely to end up,” telling reporters that the NHLPA could give consideration to both a larger international schedule or a more simple agreement that only encompasses the upcoming Olympics.

“The optimum would be something that swept in a wide-range of international events over a period spanning several years and that would include the Olympics,” Fehr said, according to the Canadian Press’ Jonas Siegel. “But if the optimum is not attainable or not attainable at once then you go for the short-term and I don’t have a judgment yet as to which I think it’s likely to be if either.”

Regardless of what agreement the two sides come to, the fact remains that the league and the Players’ Association will need to find a way to work out an agreement for Olympic participation and may need to do so in a hurry. Back in October, the International Olympic Committee’s executive director Christophe Dubi told the Associated Press that a final decision from the NHL would have to come by Jan. 15, which means as of Monday the NHL and NHLPA have less than two weeks to come to a conclusion.

Despite the IOC’s reported deadline, commissioner Gary Bettman said he doesn’t feel the pressure of a deadline before adding that, even with Fehr’s optimism, there wasn’t really anything new to report in terms of progress towards an Olympic deal for 2018. Bettman said issues with injuries and schedule compression, among other things, were negative impacts the Olympics had on the NHL season in the past.

"We haven't had any further discussions with the IOC or the IIHF and absent some compelling reason I'm not sure there's a whole lot of sentiment on the part of the clubs to go through the disruption of taking almost three weeks off during the season,” Bettman said, according to LeBrun. “We’ve been there, done that five times and while Vancouver and Salt Lake City were different, when you're halfway around the world it's not the easiest thing to have in our season.”

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