Czech rejection could jeopardize Olympics

Updated: August 3, 2005, 5:20 PM ET

PRAGUE -- The Czech Republic's top ice hockey teams rejected on Wednesday a player transfer agreement between the NHL and the international federation, a move that jeopardizes NHL participation in the Olympic Games.

Under the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, signed last month to end a 301-day player lockout by owners, the North American league would pay European teams for players based on a sliding scale.

In a vote on Wednesday, the Czech federation said, representatives from all 14 teams of the country's Extraliga, its top competition, rejected the deal.

It follows a similar vote against the CBA in Russia on Monday.

The new scale for player compensation increases the amount paid for players to their European teams, up to $900,000 for a first overall draft choice.

That amount drops by $20,000 for each successive pick until the end of the first round. Teams that lose second round picks and onward to the NHL would receive a flat $150,000. The money is doled out via the international federation.

There was no immediate word from the Czech federation on why the agreement was rejected, but it was clear heading into the meeting that money was at the heart of the problem.

"If they want our players in the NHL, let them pay," the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes quoted Zbynek Kusy, general manager of last year's champions Pardubice, as saying.

At stake is more than just compensation to European teams.

If a compromise is not reached, the NHL would not have an agreement for its players to take part in the Olympic Games in Turin next year, a tournament it has used to showcase its talent on a world stage.

NHL players playing in the Olympics and other international tournaments is covered under the CBA.

Russia and the Czech Republic both have dozens of players skating for NHL teams and often complain that their junior programs pay a lot of money to develop top level talent, only to see the players leave when they are 18 years old.

Kusy's team, for example, could lose more than five players from its championship squad to the NHL, though some, such as Milan Hejduk, played at home last season only because of the lockout.

With the advent of Russian team owners such as billionaire Roman Abramovich -- who also owns English soccer team Chelsea -- the top Russian league is emerging as a serious competitor to the NHL for European talent, especially with NHL owners facing tight spending guidelines.

"We want about $300,000 to $350,000. And if Russian teams offer more, we will send our players there," Kusy said.