Each of the league’s 30 clubs had at least one representative, and 18 of them — including the Bruins, who had six playing for five countries — provided at least five.
“They’re a global league with many players from Russia and they have a TV partner that knows how to manage their product,” NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said last month. “I have a high degree of optimism that the NHL will be there.”
Really, no other option
Since the NHLers first turned up en masse at Nagano in 1998, the tournament has become decidedly better and more balanced. In the old “shamateur” days when the Soviet team was all but indistinguishable from the Red Army club, the USSR won every gold medal from its 1956 debut until 1992, except for when the Americans prevailed on their home ice in 1960 and 1980.
The last four titles have been won by Canada (twice), Sweden, and the Czech Republic. The Americans have won silver at two of the last three Games. And the Russians, for the first time, have missed the podium twice in a row.
Were the NHLers to stay home, the Russians, who have won three of the last five world titles with teams stocked from their domestic league, would be golden again and interest would wane, especially in North America, where the 2010 gold-medal game between Canada and the US was watched by more than 50 million people on either side of the border.
“When you have the kind of exposure you had in Vancouver with silly numbers, over the top, can you put a monetary value on that?” said NBC analyst Mike Milbury, the former Bruin coach and player, who will be in Sochi.
What everyone can put a monetary value on is the investment that NBC has made on both sides of the table. It’s paying $775 million to the IOC for Sochi rights plus $2 billion to the NHL for its 10-year arrangement. The Canadian Broadcasting Company, which has a reported $100 million-a-year deal with the NHL, is said to be paying more than $75 million for the rights to Sochi and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think Gary has no choice,” Fasel told CBC before the talks. “He has to come to Sochi.”
The stake-holders said they hoped to have an agreement by May, when the world championships will be held in Stockholm and Helsinki, if not sooner.
“All of the signals have been encouraging,” observed Ogrean.
The sooner they get a deal, the sooner the parties can move on to other international business. There’s been talk of the NHL reviving the World Cup, last held nine years ago, on a quadrennial basis beginning in 2016.
There also has been discussion about scrapping the Olympic-year world tournament, which long has been a watered-down anticlimax with B-level talent, or making it a 23-under event.
The day when Olympus was the province of Soviet lieutenants and Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen and amateur brothers from Cambridge and Warroad, Minn., is long past.
The world has become accustomed to seeing the Ovechkins, Crosbys, Charas, and Thomases playing for gold.
“For Hockey Canada, we’d love to see best-on-best,” said Nicholson. “We’d love to go and defend our gold medal in Sochi with NHL players.”
All it will take from here, apparently, is pages of dotted I’s and crossed T’s.
“It is not easy,” conceded Fasel, “but that makes it interesting.”
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.