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NHL players want ‘to grow the game’ at Olympic Games in 2022, 2026

Talk of whether NHL players would take the ice in Beijing at the 2022 Winter Games likely ended Friday evening with membership — reportedly 80 per cent — ratifying a return-to-play plan that includes potential Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026 along with a four-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement through September 2026.

Still outstanding is the league and its players resolving issues such as health insurance, travel costs and marketing rights with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Earlier this week, IIHF president Rene Fasel didn’t foresee major stumbling blocks in reaching an agreement ahead of the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

“I think in principle, I would say the news that [Olympic participation is] in the CBA — for me and especially hockey — is very good news,” he told The Associated Press.

In February, deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly didn’t sound hopeful of NHL players competing in China.

WATCH | Canadian hockey dominates 2014 Sochi Games:

The Canadian men’s and women’s ice hockey teams capture gold at Sochi 2014, while the sledge hockey team wins bronze. 1:14

“We believe the negatives outweigh the positives,” he wrote in an email to the AP following a meeting with Fasel in New York. At the time, he suggested the issues of Olympic participation could be resolved if it were tied into CBA negotiations.

“I can’t figure out why anybody would not want to go and take advantage of this opportunity because it doesn’t come around every day,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr wondered.

Canada 3-time Olympic champs with NHLers

In 2018, the NHL didn’t send players to Pyeongchang, South Korea, after competing in five consecutive Olympics from 1998-2014, with commissioner Gary Bettman noting in June 2019 the cost of sending and insuring athletes costs the league around $20 million US.

Travel costs to Pyeongchang were projected to be $15 million, which the IOC refused to pay. The NHL was also denied control of using Olympic game footage to promote the league and players.

“It’s not that I’m not a fan of the Olympics,” he said. “I’m not a fan of disrupting our season. We’re not going to pay for the privilege of shutting down [the season for two weeks].”

Canada won Olympic gold medals in 2002 (Salt Lake City), 2010 (Vancouver) and 2014 (Sochi, Russia) with NHL players on hand.

“Everybody wants to play in the Olympics,” Canucks forward Bo Horvat was quoted in an story. “I think that’s a big thing that we wanted [in a new CBA], not only for ourselves to represent our country, but to grow the game.”

Forward Justin Williams, who returned to the Carolina Hurricanes on a one-year deal at age 38 in January after sitting out the start of the season, believes the Olympics is a way to promote hockey worldwide.

“I just think it’s great for the game of hockey to be able to showcase the best players,” the three-time Stanley Cup champion said this week. “The Olympics are a special event in itself but having NHL players there, you love to see the best on best.”

The 2026 Olympics are to be co-hosted in Italy by Milano Cortina.

WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo breaks down tentative NHL agreement:

CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo breaks down the tentative agreement between the NHL-NHLPA on its return to play plan and CBA extension. 4:14

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