<
>

NHL, union still have questions on Olympics

The Olympics are not part of this tentative collective bargaining agreement, but that certainly doesn’t mean the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association are ignoring the matter.

The two parties agreed to leave the Olympics out of the CBA, a departure from the last CBA, when Olympic participation was in the deal. They plan to negotiate a separate agreement outside the CBA relating to the Olympics.

That agreement would come about if the NHL and NHLPA can agree to terms of future Olympic involvement with the IIHF and the IOC.

Sources tell ESPN.com that the four parties plan to meet over the next month or so to begin discussions.

The Sochi Games are less than 13 months away, so it’s a time-sensitive matter.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say NHL players will again be Olympic-bound. The NHL has participated in every Winter Games since Nagano in 1998.

However, it’s not a slam dunk. The NHL and NHLPA both haven’t been thrilled with the way the IOC has treated them in past Olympics. Ironically, after a bitter labor battle, the NHL and NHLPA will be a unified front, very much brothers in arms in their approach with the IOC in these negotiations. Conditions need to improve for the NHL and NHLPA to sign off.

Aside from the Olympics, there also will be discussions about bringing back the World Cup of Hockey, a joint NHL-NHLPA venture that hasn’t been staged since September 2004, when Canada beat Finland in the final.

Both the league and the union have a strong interest in bringing that back. It’s a no-brainer, really, a money-making event featuring the best players in the world.

The key is that the event needs to return on a regular schedule for fans to treat it as a substitute to the Olympics. My guess is the plan would be to stage the World Cup every four years, exactly two years after/before the Olympics.

What remains to be seen is when exactly the World Cup would be held on the calendar. Going back to its Canada Cup roots, the event was always an August-September staging. However, some in the industry would like to see it staged in February, when players are at their peak. That would be a tough sell, however, to some owners and perhaps commissioner Gary Bettman, who already aren’t fans of pausing the season for the Olympics.

Either way, however, bet on the World Cup of Hockey returning.