Feb. 18 -- A decision on whether National Hockey League players will participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, could come within the next six months, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said today.
Both Bettman and Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, said in a news conference at the Sochi Games that no decision on 2018 will be made during the current Olympics in Russia.
"I hope it could be done in six months," Bettman told reporters. "Frankly, if we're going to continue to participate, having as long a runway as possible would be an advantage. But as much as we'd like to, you're dealing with a guesstimate on the timetable."
NHL players have participated in the last five Winter Games, making hockey one of the most high-profile sports at the Olympics. There are 148 NHL players in Sochi, including 10 each from the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
Having NHL players perform in the Olympics forces the league to shut down in the middle of its season and exposes highly paid athletes to the risk of injury outside NHL games, leading some team owners to oppose continuing the practice.
On the other hand, it gives the NHL a dose of midseason publicity and many players are passionate about performing for their home nation at the Olympics.
"None of this moves forward at all, if it moves forward, if the players don't want to play," Bettman said. "If the players ever said we're not interested, we're not going to ever force them to go."
Fehr said the players' union will go through a review after Sochi and poll its members about their interest in playing at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
"When my process begins with the players, it will take as long as it takes," Fehr said. "They may say by the time we get to our meetings in July they know enough, it may be done in November."
One of the factors in making the decision is whether NHL players will participate in other global events.
"The fact of the matter is whatever we decide to do, the NHL and the NHLPA will be able to talk about other international initiatives, including bringing back the World Cup," Bettman said. "We see international competition on the horizon, it's just a matter of what the format will be."
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, joined Bettman and Fehr at the news conference and said NHL players enjoy being at the Olympics.
"There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete," he said. "The gold medal, you cannot replace that."
Bettman quickly interjected: "Except maybe winning a Stanley Cup."