The NHL, the NHLPA, and the Olympic Orientation Camps

USA Hockey, the national association the governs all levels of amateur hockey in the US (including national teams), opens up their Olympic Orientation Camp today in the Chicago area - and it is open to the public for those in the area. The lone Lightning representative, Ryan Malone, should be in attendance. Kicking off the festivities will be the Patrick Kane sideshow with Kane giving a press conference regarding his taxi fare arrest fiasco.

Just because a player has been invited to camp does not mean they will automatically be added to the roster. The opposite goes for those who were not invited to camp - just because they were not invited does not mean they can't make the team. Olympic rosters won't be finalized until November or December, so national hockey organizations will be scouting players for the first few months to determine who should be on those final rosters. At this point, very few are shoe-ins for any squad.

In regards to the Lightning, the following players could potentially end up going to the Olympics for their respective countries:

USA - Jeff Halpern, Ryan Malone

Canada - Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos

Finland - Antero Niittymaki

Latvia - Martins Karsums

Slovakia - Andrej Meszaros

Sweden - Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund

More after the break.

The real interest in regards to the Team USA get-together at this point is whether or not players will step on the ice and skate in Chicago. What Kane has to say will be interesting, but he's hardly the big story. USA Hockey is throwing their camp before Hockey Canada does, so they will likely set the tone for them and perhaps others to follow.

In July, the NHLPA sent out a memo to its constituents encouraging them to skip the on-ice portion of their country's Olympic camps in order to avoid injury due to insurance issues. In August, the NHL sent out a memo to its member teams stating that they will not honor player contracts to those individuals who get injured in Olympic camps. Meaning, should a player be injured he will be suspended for 30 games without pay, and if it's a serious injury then they may be suspended without pay for the entire season.

Now, I don't know about you, but this looks like collusion to me. The NHLPA first issues their "recommendation", and when a few of the players openly and publically rebel against it, then the NHL comes in to back them up less than a month later? That's awfully convenient for somebody, if you ask me.

So if that's true, then here's my question: Who, exactly, is the NHLPA working for? It doesn't appear to be the players, in this instance. If the players want to play in the Olympics, then the NHLPA should be backing them up. After all, that's the will of their constituents, right? At least, that's the theory.

Of course, it ultimately comes down to money. The top administrators of the NHLPA aren't willing to jeopardize their top money makers - the star players that will be attending these camps - and it's the NHL that pays them. So, naturally, the NHLPA's interests in this matter coincide with the NHL's. The very body that's supposed to be supporting the rights of the players is working against them in this instance because of money.

The national hockey associations are rightly not pleased by this. Why have a camp if the players aren't going to be on the ice? It's the simplest way to judge potential team chemistry. Otherwise, you might as well get a list of players, sort them by position and point production, pick the most productive ones, and then hope for the best.

In the end, this might be the first step towards eliminating NHL participation in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The NHL hasn't exactly been thrilled with the idea of participating in more Olympic competitions - despite the fact that it's the easiest way to market the game and their league on a global level. And wouldn't it be fitting for the NHL to end its participation in the Olympics with Canada hosting these upcoming 2010 games?

Because of this lack of enthusiasm on the NHL's part, Russian players have threatened to boycott the 2010 Olympics if the NHL doesn't commit to the 2014 Olympics. The Washington Capitals star, Alexander Ovechkin, has also threatened to boycott the NHL that year and play for the KHL. And where he goes, the others will follow.

So, again, who exactly is the NHLPA working for?