The long-awaited decision on the National Hockey League sending its players to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games came Friday with the league and its players giving the green light for a fifth time.
"The National Hockey League features the most international player population in professional sports, and our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The decision to participate in the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was in many ways a difficult one, but one that we know will be well received by our Players and, most importantly, by the vast majority of our fans and sports fans everywhere.
The league had been negotiating with the NHL Players’ Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee for several months.
"The players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world's best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February," said Don Fehr, NHLPA executive director. "Having the opportunity to wear their nation's sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to."
Stopping the hockey season for two weeks is one of the biggest challenges the NHL has cited since its players first competed at the Olympics in 1998 in Nagano, Japan. It became more of a factor in these negotiations since a 113-day lockout shortened the 2013 NHL campaign to a 48-game schedule.
This time, the NHL is expected to shut down on Feb. 9, with half of the league’s 30 teams playing their final game on Feb. 8. The NHL season would resume on Feb. 26, three days after the gold-medal game.
The men’s Olympic hockey tournament starts Feb. 12, with games shown live on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca and about 170 NHL players participating.
Canada won 2010 gold
Those athletes selected by their countries to compete would travel by charter from four North American hubs and arrive in Sochi on Feb. 10.
Canada, which defeated the United States 3-2 in overtime to win the men's hockey gold at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, will be in a pool with Finland, Norway and Austria in Russia.
Player insurance was one of the major issues the NHL needed to resolve. Reports suggest the cost to be as much as $2 million US per Olympic team.
"There is obviously a risk involved when you bring over a projected 160 [to] 180 NHL players where the total contract value would be around $3 billion [US]," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters in May. "This is a risk which must be insured, especially in cases of season-ending or career-ending injuries.”
Also, the eight-hour time difference will force the games to be played at odd hours in North America, and the NHL would like to receive concessions from the IOC that haven't been made before.
In return for sending its players to Sochi, the NHL attempted to acquire video, photograph and website rights for the Games, which were held by the IIHF and IOC.
About five to six weeks before the Games, national teams will be asked to submit a 25-man roster, which will be increased by two skaters from the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Each country can now name 22 skaters and three goaltenders.