Olys a bust without NHL players

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 6:26 AM ET

TORONTO -- Wayne Gretzky found himself talking about Mario Lemieux maybe playing in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino when ... Whoa!

"Are you suggesting that you're holding out hope for 2006?'' came the question from the floor.

"Am I? Yeah, we got two more days,'' Gretzky laughed.

The collective bargaining agreement ends at midnight tomorrow.

But Gretzky says he really is holding out hope that someway the NHL and NHLPA will find a way, no matter how the negotiations go, of agreeing to go to the next Olympics with NHL players.

"You know what, I hope a deal gets done,'' said Gretzky. "I appreciate nobody's asked about it because that's not the focus today - not should it be. But I had breakfast with Rene Fasel the other day,'' he said of the IIHF president.

"I just think it's the greatest thing in the world that we send our best players not only from Canada, but from around the world to the Olympic Games. I think it's positive for hockey.

''I think it's positive for the game. I hope we can come to some sort of deal so we can send our best players to Italy. It's fun to be part of it. It's fun to cover it. I hope it works out. But saying that, as you guys know, we only have 48 hours.''

SPOKE TO THE SUBJECT

Fasel, about three hours after Gretzky spoke to the subject, held his own press availability at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"Where can you better promote your sport than at the Olympics? We don't understand that. It's a huge stage. The TV. The media. The fans. And playing in the Olympics for your country is different than playing for your country in any other international competition.

"Hockey fans, for sure, want to see the best players in the Olympics,'' he said.

Fasel said the IIHF will not hold a gun to the head of the NHL and NHLPA, the members of which he believes very much want to be in the Olympics.

"It would be wrong to say 'If you don't come to Turin you can not go to Vancouver,' '' he said of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada.

Fasel said nothing has changed since Prague in terms of where the IIHF sits.

He repeated that NHL boss Gary Bettman told him that if there was no solution by January then there would be no season whatsoever, and if there were no season this year he would not ask for the teams to shutdown the season for a couple of weeks in 2006 to accommodate players going to the Olympics.

INSURANCE PROBLEM

There's also the matter of the world championships.

If there is no hockey season, there would be an opportunity to have a virtual re-run of this World Cup of Hockey in Vienna and Innsbruck next year.

The problem with that is insurance.

"It is really high. Last year in Prague we paid $1.5 U.S. for insurance and half of that was for three players, Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Yashin and Peter Forsberg - and Forsberg played two games,'' said Fasel.


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