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Report: NHL owners need ‘game-changer’ to consider Olympic participation

The NHLPA’s Donald Fehr was “more optimistic” than ever before regarding Olympic participation, but the NHL reportedly sees things differently.

With speculation being that the NHL and NHLPA need to come to a decision on Olympic participation sometime in the next few weeks, one might think there’d begin to be some clarity as to which way discussions were going.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr offered some hope ahead of the Centennial Classic this past Sunday for those hoping for the NHL to send players to the Olympics. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Fehr said he felt “more optimistic now” than he had at any point prior when it came to talks regarding Olympic participation.

However, that same day, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated that no talks have happened with the IOC or IIHF regarding the Olympics, continuing by saying that “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.”

Even still, there was cause for at least a glimmer of hope, with the belief that Fehr’s optimism was more telling of the direction talks were going with regards to sending the players to PyeongChang come February 2018. But according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, at least one owner and one member of the NHL’s Board of Governors have “no idea” where Fehr’s optimism is coming from.

That’s not to say Olympic participation is entirely off the table, though. Dreger, appearing on NBC on Wednesday evening, elaborated on what it might take for the league to send players to South Korea for the tournament.

“Unless there is a game-changer that sways the owners, then that attitude is going to remain consistent; that the NHL will not be going to South Korea,” Dreger said, according to NBC Sports. “And by ‘game-changer’, we’re talking about something perhaps CBA related, which Don Fehr says is too complicated. It would take months to negotiate something like that. Or, a huge financial gain from the IOC or Olympic-related to persuade the NHL owners. And at this stage, that seems like a long shot.”

The NHL has already previously sought a potential three-year extension of the current CBA in exchange for the right to play at the Olympics, but that was almost immediately shut down by the players when it was presented to them. A handful of players openly balked at the idea of extending the current CBA, most notably San Jose Sharks defenseman and 2014 Canadian Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

“I started laughing,” Vlasic said in November, according to CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz. “That’s not negotiating. It’s not…That’s not the way you negotiate things.”

If the players do want to participate come the 2018 Olympics, though, it seems as though it’s going to take hard work from both sides to make it work, and they might not have much time left to come to a decision. The reported deadline from the IOC for a decision is mid-January, and while both Fehr and Bettman said they don’t feel as if that’s a hard deadline, this Olympic participation saga will have to eventually come to a conclusion.

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