Turin agreement near, but issues remain

Updated: August 10, 2005, 2:26 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ZURICH, Switzerland -- A final agreement for NHL participation in the Turin Olympics might be close, but the NHL still needs to resolve issues between the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Russian and Czech hockey federations.

Officials from the NHL, the league's players association and executives of the IIHF will meet Thursday.

Bill Daly, the new NHL deputy commissioner, and Ted Saskin, the new executive director of the NHLPA, plus IIHF president Rene Fasel and IOC and Turin organizing officials will head the talks.

"I understand the IIHF will have further meetings with participating federations later this week, and we expect to have a definitive answer on the contract by Monday," Daly said.

The meeting is part of a European trip for Daly and Saskin, who are trying to save the tentative NHL-IIHF agreement that the Russians and Czechs rejected last week.

Daly and Saskin traveled to Turin on Tuesday to look at the Olympic hockey venue and accommodations. The pair then headed to Prague to meet with the Czech hockey federation and Czech league officials to discuss the player transfer agreement the Czechs blocked.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Fasel traveled to Moscow last Thursday to negotiate with Russian hockey officials. The Russians were the first to refuse to sign the agreement because their clubs unanimously rejected it. The Czechs later sided with Russia.

The NHL's participation at the Olympics depends on the Russians and Czechs signing the player transfer agreement, which increases the compensation the NHL pays European federations in exchange for signing players.

The NHL and the Czech hockey federation met for four hours on Wednesday but failed to break a deadlock over player transfer payments, an obstacle to NHL participation in the Olympic Games, according to Reuters.

Last week Czech professional teams rejected part of the NHL's recently signed collective bargaining agreement, saying they wanted higher fees for player transfers.

Under the new five-year plan, the NHL would pay $12.5 million annually to a development fund managed by the sport's governing body. That's a $3.5 million increase from the previous deal.

The IIHF distributes the money among the national federations and clubs that lose players to the NHL based on a formula devised by the IIHF and the national federations.

A player picked first overall in the NHL draft is worth $900,000, with each successive pick down to 30th decreasing by $20,000. Later draft picks are valued at $150,000 each.

The Czechs feel the minimum payment is too low.

"We (the NHL and the IIHF) explained to them the reasoning behind some of the various provisions of the proposed contract, and how they were intended to operate," Daly said. "We also heard from them as to certain of their concerns regarding the structure of the proposed contract."

The new formula was designed largely to satisfy the Russian clubs, who regularly lose their top prospects to the NHL. Russian teams want to negotiate their own transfer deals directly with NHL clubs so they can get more money.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.