TAMPA — Capitals coach Adam Oates said he does not believe NHL players should participate in the Olympics, to which Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman asked, "What's the harm?"
"It's the biggest stage in the world to market our players," Yzerman said. "The Olympics is one time the world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because they are the best in the world."
The NHL and NHL Players Association will continue meetings today in New York with the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation to decide if NHL players will be at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Oates, a former Lightning assistant who as a player declined several invitations to play for Canada in international competition, said the priority should be the NHL season.
"You know what? I don't," Oates said Thursday when asked if NHL players should be at the Olympics. "Is it good for hockey that they do it? Great. But I grew up trying to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, not Team Canada; didn't even know it existed."
Oates said he understands there is another point of view, especially among European players who "grew up trying to play for their country."
Even so, "How would you feel if one of your players goes over and gets hurt?" he said. "It's more devastating if one of your key players gets hurt."
But players said it would be more devastating not to play. Several years ago, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin threatened to play for Russia at Sochi even if the NHL did not officially participate.
"When I was growing up, I only (cared about) the Olympics and world championship," he told Washington reporters Thursday. "It was very important."
"You're representing your country. It's kind of above everything else as well," said Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who several times has played for Canada at the world championship. "If you're a Canadian kid and you don't think about that, something is wrong with you. Any time you get a chance to represent your country at any stage, it's something you dream about."
Yzerman, the Canadian team's executive director for the Sochi Olympics, took an even longer view.
"Ryan Miller comes back from (the 2010 Olympics), and the whole country knows who he is," Yzerman said of the Sabres goalie, a standout for the United States. "It's only good for our game."