If Roman Josi could lend a hand to the negotiations, he gladly would.
After all, three years ago it was a broken finger that prevented the Nashville Predators defenseman from playing for his native Switzerland at the Winter Olympics. Whether or not he finally gets the opportunity a year from now has yet to be determined, but he made no secret of the fact that he would jump at the chance.
“It’s only every four years,” Josi said. “It’s a great tournament. It’s a once-in-lifetime opportunity, maybe. You never know.”
At this point, none of the National Hockey League players who have not experienced it firsthand know for sure if they will have the chance.
The 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, are scheduled to open Feb. 7, but the league and the NHL Players Association have yet to commit to participation. A little more than a week ago league and union officials had two days of meetings with representatives from the International Olympic Committee but left without a resolution.
The general feeling throughout the international hockey community favors the inclusion of NHL players, as has been the case in each of the last four Winter Olympics, and virtually everyone agrees that — at its core — it is a good idea.
The issues that have held up a decision involve video, photograph and website rights for the games, which currently belong exclusively to the IOC. Specifically, the league would like the Olympics to raise awareness for its website and its broadcast arm, the NHL Network.
Predators players, even those who have participated in the Olympics, say they have had little — if any — input in the process.
“That’s for them to decide,” captain Shea Weber said. “They’re going to figure it out, and whatever their decision is, we’ll be ready to do it.”
There is still time for the sides to iron out an agreement, but national federations reportedly have said they need to know by May which players will be in their available talent pools. In 2010, many countries held orientation camps in August, prior to the start of NHL training camps.
The process was slowed by the lockout implemented by owners in September, which lasted through January and reduced the current NHL season to 48 games. The league needed to settle its own business affairs before it could move on to ancillary matters such as Olympics participation.
Plus, as typically is the case, how it affects the NHL season remains a concern for some.
In 2010, the Predators had six players take part — Weber for Canada, Martin Erat for the Czech Republic, Ryan Suter for the United States, Patric Hornqvist for Sweden, and Marcel Goc and Alexander Sulzer for Germany. They spent two weeks in Vancouver while the rest of their teammates enjoyed a break and the majority of them actually left town. Weber and Suter took part in the gold medal game and competed for seven games each during the tournament, which often produces high-level performances.
Nashville won nine of its first 12 games following the Olympic break and earned a playoff spot after having failed to qualify the previous season.
“Obviously, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Weber, who came home with a gold medal, said. “I can’t say it wasn’t tough because it’s obviously two weeks that you’re playing that a lot of guys get rest.
“Obviously, the stretch run is a lot of games in a lot of nights. I think that we had the team that stuck together. We didn’t give ourselves any excuses. We just stayed focused and had a good finish.”
The Predators played 21 games that year from the start of March until the end of the regular season. In 2008-09 and 2010-11 they played 19 games over the same stretch.
The impact on the schedule, therefore, seems minimal.
“When you’ve got a schedule like we’ve got this year, you’ll be ready if you go to the Olympics,” Erat said. “It’s only a couple days. You get the time change, but we’re used to traveling. If they give us one extra day to get ready for the NHL when we get back, I don’t think it’s going to be a big problem for us.”
There is no dispute about the quality of competition when the NHL players are involved.
Three different countries have won the gold medal in the four Olympics that have included them. Six different nations have reached the medal stand at least once.
Canada is the only two-time gold medal winner during that time, with victories in 2002 and 2010, but it failed to finish among the top three in either of the other two. Finland is the only three-time medal winner with one silver and two bronze.
“The Olympics is a great tournament,” Josi said. “I couldn’t go the last time, and I was pretty sad about that. I watched on TV and I always watched when I was young. All the best players in the world are there. It would be great.
“I’m just sitting back. I haven’t really heard much about it. I’m just hoping that we can go.”
In addition to Josi, who was just 19 when he originally was picked for Switzerland’s 2010 team, goalie Pekka Rinne (Finland) looks to be well-positioned to make his Olympic debut next year if an agreement is reached. Colin Wilson, off to the best start of his career, conceivably could climb into the mix for the United States given that he spent two years in the U.S. National Team Developmental Program and that the Americans lack a lot of established forwards.
If the sides can’t come to an agreement and those players don’t get the opportunity, there’s no way they can know for sure just what they’ve missed.
“It’s like something you can’t describe,” Erat said. “When you play for your country and you play against the best and you know all the best players are there, that’s what hockey should be about. You don’t get paid for it but you’re just trying to win, and that’s the most important.
“I would love to go back. It’s a great experience. It’s an honor to play for your country and with the best players. I think it’s the biggest honor you can get.”