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Have no fear, NHL players will be in Sochi

It was John Furlong, chief executive officer of the 2010 Vancouver Games organizing committee, who put everything in proper perspective Wednesday, during a lively World Hockey Summit session that focused on the men's Olympic hockey tournament.

How, Furlong asked, would hockey fans ever forgive the NHL for skipping the next Olympics in Sochi, Russia, after the overwhelming way in which the men's tournament was embraced during in Vancouver?

It was a good question, and it had only one answer: They wouldn't.

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That is why, for all the breathless chatter about the pros and cons of Olympic participation, the NHL will be in Sochi in 2014, even if commissioner Gary Bettman isn't prepared to make a public commitment to that effect for at least two more years.

The problem with the Olympic discussion is it involves a bunch of red herrings.

One is money, the idea that if the International Olympic Committee cut a big enough cheque to the NHL for permission to use its players, it would solve the problem.

There are some NHL owners that saw the face value of men's Olympic hockey tickets and would love to get a piece of the action.

But the Olympics are not a cash grab for the NHL. More than anything else, the league wants a chance to show Sidney Crosby's winning goal on - something it could not do in Vancouver, thanks to the IOC's strict controls of its various media platforms.

Thus, it's a rights-holders issue for the NHL, and a travel issue, and a collective-bargaining issue, one that cannot be addressed for another two years, or until the next time the league and the NHL Players' Association sit down to hammer out a labour pact.

Typically, Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland made the most reasonable points.

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Holland, assistant GM of Canada's men's 2010 team, prefaced his remarks by saying he wants the league to continue its Olympic participation. However, he also listed a handful of logistical problems, including travel, all of which he believes can be successfully resolved by reasonable people before 2014.

"I'd like to think we're going to negotiate something that everybody feels good about," Holland said.

"I just think, it's four years away. Everybody's emotional right now. The Vancouver Olympics just ended. It was an unbelievable experience. It was an incredible experience for me and I would love to do it again.

"I don't think we need to get all revved up today about players [breaching their NHL contracts]going over there. That's a question for two years from now, or three years from now. I think you've got to let the process unfold."

Anders Hedberg, former Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers great, asked Russian-born panelist Igor Kuperman what would happen if the NHL didn't go to Sochi.

"Probably, there'd be another revolution," Kuperman replied, to laughs all around. "First, one in 1917, and now maybe another one, 100 years later."

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Furlong's comment clearly resonated among the delegates, who, when asked for a show of hands by moderator Gord Miller as to whether the NHL will be in Sochi, unanimously predicted the league will be there.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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