Now that the International Olympic Committee finally agreed to cough up a few quid as part of a pro quo agreement with the NHL and NHL Players' Association, the league's players are expected to play at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
It is not official yet, so none of the principals are commenting for the record, as the deal between the league, union, IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation is now in the hands of the lawyers. They are hashing out the details, which might produce a snag, but there are hopes a formal agreement can be produced within two weeks.
However, the major hurdle was cleared a while ago, when the IOC was convinced by the NHL and NHLPA to open its massive wallet and pay the lion's share of the costs of shutting the North American league down for two weeks and bringing the players to Russia. This includes the most expensive item – insurance on the NHL players' contracts in case of injury – but also a host of other issues of equal importance to management as well as the players.
On the owners' side, the major reason some of them have never been keen about participating in the Olympics is they shut down their league for free but they don't think they get the marketing bump the NHL was looking for when it originally signed up for the Olympics in 1998.
The players are not paid either, but they don't mind because of the thrill of playing in the Olympics – although the cost of insurance is now out of reach of almost every participating country's national hockey federation because of the rise in player salaries in recent years. That is why all concerned were looking to the IOC for help for the Sochi Games.
And both the players and owners wanted to make sure they, their families and guests were given better treatment than in previous years. This is especially important because hotels and other amenities are much more limited in Sochi than they were in Vancouver in 2010, or even Salt Lake City in 2002. The sides want it spelled out in the agreement that the IOC will provide proper hotel rooms, transportation, access to Olympic venues and some meals for their families and other guests at the Games.
The cost of insuring the players – which were estimated by Greg Sutton, president of Sutton Special Risk in Toronto, which handles insurance for many NHL players and teams, to be as high as $2-million per Olympic team – is such that many of the development camps planned for the summer may not have on-ice practices.
Since the camps are held outside the Olympics, the IOC does not pay for the player insurance so only the wealthiest federations, such as Hockey Canada and Hockey USA, may be able to afford the cost of having their Olympians scrimmage.