NEW YORK — After weeks of tough negotiations, the NHL and its players reached a deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation on Friday to put the season on hold again so the game’s biggest stars can compete next year in the Sochi Olympics.
Putting a stop to another season one year after the damaging lockout created a shortened, 48-game campaign was hardly an optimal plan for the NHL. But an agreement was made to allow the top players to take part in the Olympics for the fifth straight time.
“Our outstanding athletes take tremendous pride in representing their homelands on the global stage,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a joint announcement with the players’ association. “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.”
NHL players first went to the Olympics for the 1998 Nagano Games. Now they will be available to the 12 national teams that will comprise the hockey tournament from Feb. 12-23. More than 120 NHL players are expected to compete in Sochi while the league takes a break for 2½ weeks from Feb. 9-26.
“You find out pretty quickly that an Olympic-year schedule is a little more condensed and a little more intense than a typical year,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said during a conference call. “You have to take advantage of your days off because it is condensed.
“Playing that condensed schedule then going right into basically a pretty intense playoff atmosphere, every game is like a Game 7. Then coming back from that, you basically go from being at that level of intensity to regular-season games.”
Crosby is a veteran of this type of schedule, having served as an alternate captain at the 2010 Vancouver Games when Canada captured the gold medal. Crosby scored the “Golden Goal” in overtime against the United States to win the championship.