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IIHF president gives NHL deadline on Olympic participation decision

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IIHF president Rene Fasel has given the NHL and NHLPA a deadline to decide whether players will be at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Speaking at World Junior Championship this past weekend, Fasel said he would like an answer from Commissioner Gary Bettman by the end of August.

“We would like to have a decision as early as possible if they’re coming to Beijing – ‘Yes’ or ‘No,'” Fasel said. “In Pyeongchang there was a late ‘No.’ Especially the North American teams, U.S. and Canada, had some problems to find the players and to build up a good team.

“If there is a ‘No,’ these teams should have time to prepare a competitive team to go to the Olympics in 2022. We want to have an early answer from NHLPA and NHL if they’re coming or not.”

The NHL announced in April 2017 — 10 months before the opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang — that players would not be going to the Games in South Korea.

Nine countries have already qualified for the men’s tournament with the final three spots to be decided in August during the qualifying tournament. Fasel is hoping for an answer from the NHL before pucks drops.

“We are working on an early decision made by the NHL and NHLPA,” Fasel said. “We need to know before that.”

NHL players participated in five straight Games from 1998 to 2014, but the league passed on going to Pyeongchang in 2018 citing costs and having to shut down midseason for two weeks. The League has been looking into hosting another World Cup of Hockey, which was last held in Toronto in 2016. A 2020 edition was postponed due to labor uncertainty and last month Bettman announced there will be no tournament in 2021.

“The Olympics is a unique platform we can use, especially in Asia, with the best on best format,” said Fasel, who is set to step down as IIHF president in 2020. “Asia represents two-thirds of the world’s population. I consider Gary a smart person. At the end he will come, I hope.”

It’s clear that NHL players want to go to Beijing, but the owners have not been keen on the idea. We’ll see how big of a topic it becomes in the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks. We’ll also wait and see just how serious Bettman and the NHLPA take this deadline from Fasel, especially knowing how much the IIHF wants NHL players to participate.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.