No ringing endorsement, yet, for NHL players in Sochi Olympics

Less than a year before Winter Games in Russia, the league, union and international federation don't have an agreement for NHL participation. But there's ample hope.

The countdown to the Sochi Olympics slipped beneath the one-year mark last week with a huge question looming: Will NHL players participate in Russia's first-ever Winter Games?

The answer should be clearer after executives of the NHL, NHL Players' Assn. and International Ice Hockey Federation meet in New York on Thursday and Friday to discuss what would be the fifth Olympic tournament involving the world's best players. IIHF President Rene Fasel told "Hockey Night in Canada" he'd like an agreement to be in place by May.

"I think there is a majority from owners and players that really want to come," he said.

Staging epic matchups for worldwide audiences seems a strong enough reason to say yes, but it's not a simple decision.

The NHL gets no direct financial benefit from allowing players to represent their homelands and gets little access to players, their images, or video of them during the Games, limiting promotional opportunities. After losing nearly half of this season to a lockout, owners have little incentive to shut down for 16 days for games that won't be aired live during North American prime time.

If the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee give the NHL wider access and share the public-relations bounty, it would be well worth everyone's while for players to compete in Sochi. Many prominent Russians, including Washington's Alexander Ovechkin, have said they'd participate either way, but it's unlikely to come to that.

The NHLPA declined to comment about the upcoming talks, but Executive Director Donald Fehr has been vocal about focusing on international growth opportunities.

Unlike previous Winter Games, NHL players' involvement at Sochi wasn't negotiated through collective bargaining.

"We were both comfortable leaving that as an issue because it was not something that we felt needed to be bargained over," Commissioner Gary Bettman told The Times recently. "It's something that we needed to work out jointly one way or another and that's why we were comfortable tabling it.

"I understand that this is important to the players. I know the players' association understands that there are a variety of issues that would have to be dealt with and that's something that we'll sit down in the not-too-distant future and we'll start addressing it."

The future will arrive this week.

If it quacks like a Duck . . .

There are many reasons the Ducks should be struggling.

They're notoriously slow starters. Right wing Corey Perry, a 50-goal scorer and league most valuable player in 2010-11, has one goal. Their penalty killing ranks 29th. Goaltender Jonas Hiller has a dreaded lower-body injury. They're on a grueling six-game trip.

But look who's 8-2-1 and No. 2 in the West after winning five of six, including a 6-5 shootout victory Saturday at St. Louis. Coach Bruce Boudreau called it "cuckoo." He was right.

"The team doesn't give up and never believes they can't win. And that, to me, is a very important thing," he said by phone Sunday. "You get down 3-1 in St. Louis and most nights against that team, it's, 'Oh, well, it's going to be a tough one.'

"I thought our stick-to-it-iveness was great. . . . That makes you believe that wherever you're playing you have a chance to win."

They've done it with little from top-liner Perry but a bounce-back from Ryan Getzlaf (three goals, nine points), speedy depth, and timely points from defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray.

"I get back sometimes and I'll pinch myself," Boudreau said. "You talk about secondary scoring and we're getting a lot of that. We're just waiting for the primary scoring to start."

Right wing Teemu Selanne (four goals, 14 points) on Saturday recorded his second four-point performance in 22 days, half the four-point games in NHL history by a player 42 or older. The others were by Gordie Howe in 1971 and Tim Horton in 1972.


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