Adversaries a year ago at the start of the lockout that cut the NHL season almost in half, Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, and Bob Goodenow, head of the NHL Players Assn., were allies Monday as they formally announced that the league, the union and the International Ice Hockey Federation had agreed to allow NHL players to represent their countries in the 1998 Olympics at Nagano, Japan.
The NHL will halt play on Feb. 8, 1998, and resume on Feb. 25 to allow players from Sweden, Canada, the United States, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic to play at Nagano. Players not selected for their respective Olympic teams will get a break before attending mini-camps. Summer training camp will be shortened and the 1997-98 schedule adjusted to accommodate a full 82-game schedule.
Olympians won't be paid to play in the Games and NHL clubs won't be paid for halting play. However, Bettman said the world-wide exposure will compensate for any inconveniences.
"We all felt that taking a 16-day break to have our players on the Olympic stage in what will amount to dream tournament, hockey will be on a high pedestal," he said at a news conference in New York.
Bettman and Goodenow agreed last week to waive the reopener clause in their collective bargaining agreement, ensuring they can build on momentum gained during the Olympics and avoid a work stoppage in the fall of 1998. The overall agreement also calls for a World Cup hockey tournament to be staged in August and September of 1996 in Canada, the United States and Europe.
The Olympic teams will be picked in August of 1997, with provisions for late changes. They will play a seven-game, eight-day final round against two other teams that will advance from an earlier tournament at Nagano.