While the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver will undoubtedly dominate the hockey landscape this season, many curious minds will be closely paying attention to the 2014 Games, as well.
The NHL has not committed to any future Olympic Games participation beyond Vancouver. The fact that the next Olympic Games are in Russia is significant, as the NHL and the Russian hockey federation are at serious odds. The Russians want to keep their younger players longer, and wanted to be significantly compensated for losing them to the NHL. That combined with frosty KHL-NHL relations combines to promise that the Sochi Olympics will be a pawn in this political power play.
Withholding NHL talent would be a big blow to the Sochi Games, in terms of both fan interest and finances. The NHL may well use that card to try to strong arm the Russians into a favorable transfer agreement.
Russia's biggest draw is promising to be at the 2014 Olympics regardless of the NHL's future plans. Alexander Ovechkin is willing to break the rules of his NHL contract by leaving the Washington Capitals in mid-season to go play at those games.
"Nobody can say to me you can't play for your country in the Olympic Games," Ovechkin told ESPN.com.
"I don't care," Ovechkin continued. "I'll go play in the Olympic Games for my country. If somebody says to me you can't play, see ya."
That would be an amazing move on Ovechkin's part, and he may not be the only Russian player willing to risk punishment. The Olympics are traditionally the peak of one's hockey career in Russia, so others may jump at the opportunity to play at the homeland games, creating one heck of a potential problem for the NHL.
Do the Capitals give Ovechkin their blessing to go to Russia? That would set one heck of a precedent. What if Simeon Varlamov and Alexander Semin want to go too? What if Mike Green wants to go represent Canada or Nicklas Backstrom for Sweden? The Capitals would be in dire straights. So too could many other teams, as the precedent affects all NHL teams.
It will be very interesting to watch this story unfold.
Also see: Alexander Ovechkin driving a Zamboni in downtown Manhattan