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Report: NHL, NHLPA to further discuss Olympic participation this week

The deadline for the NHL’s decision on Olympic participation is looming, and there’s a plan in place for the NHL and NHLPA to meet and talk about finding a solution that makes the league and players happy.

The start of the PyeongChang Olympics remains nearly 14 months away, but there could be as little as a month for the NHL to decide whether or not they’ll be allowing to participate. And as the deadline draws nearer, it appears the NHL and the NHLPA will be continuing to work towards a potential resolution that can work for both the league and players.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday that there is currently a plan in place for commissioner Gary Bettman to meet with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr to discuss NHL participation in the games. According to Friedman, finding a way to avoid a future work stoppage could be one of the most likely routes to finding a deal.

Already, the league had reportedly proposed an extension to the current CBA in exchange for the players’ rights to play at the Olympics, but the proposal was rejected almost immediately by the players. One of the biggest issues for the players with the proposed extension was the current escrow structure and their desire to see some changes to the current CBA.

“Escrow is (the players’) number one issue," Friedman said Saturday. "I don't think it will be easy, but the fact is they've seen the Major League Baseball players get a new CBA done without a work stoppage, the NBA players have now got a new deal done without a work stoppage, so I think what they are going to find a way to do here is see if there is a way to solve the issue.”

When the initial extension proposal came from the league, it was almost unanimously laughed off by players — in the case of San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, that was literally what happened — and formally shutdown by the NHLPA shortly after it was made. At the time of the proposal, Vlasic said it shouldn’t even be a question whether or not the players were given the chance to go to the Olympics if selected by their national teams.

“As an athlete, it’s your right to go to the Olympics,” Vlasic said last month, according to CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz. “I don’t know if [the report] is true. I hope it’s not. That’s not the way you negotiate things. But, if that is true, all of a sudden they don’t mind having a two-week break in the NHL for a three-year collective bargaining agreement.”

Several players have voiced their desire to play in the Olympics, while Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin remains the only player to outright announce he would go to the tournament regardless of the NHL’s decision. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has publicly backed Ovechkin, saying he’ll support the Capitals captain if he decides to leave the team to play in PyeongChang.

It could all be worked out without Ovechkin having to worry about any backlash for leaving the Capitals to play at the Olympics, though. Friedman pointed out that there’s somewhere in the neighborhood of a month for a deal to get done, and the pressure of the deadline could force both sides to do their best and most serious work towards finding a solution that both allows the players to play at the 2018 Games and helps the league avoid yet another lockout come 2022.

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