Alex Ovechkin, shown here during the 2008 World Championship, and other NHLers will be allowed to play in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Elsa/Getty Images)

What has long been presumed is now official: NHL players will take part in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The league will take a 17-day break from Feb. 9-26 to accommodate participation in Sochi, which marks the fifth consecutive Winter Olympics to feature NHL players. The men’s hockey tournament is scheduled for Feb. 12-23.

While the NHL receives a publicity boost from the involvement of its players, coaches and officials in the Olympics, there was debate as to whether the league should continue to take part. Concern over potential injury to players, the drawbacks of halting the NHL season in mid-winter and bargaining of media rights were among the top issues as the league and NHLPA worked out an agreement with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation.

There was never any doubt that the players wanted to remain involved, though. This generation of NHLers has grown up with the ability to represent their country in the Olympics and consider it an important privilege.

“The Players are very pleased that an agreement has been reached that will allow the world’s best hockey players to compete at the Winter Games in February,” NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr said in a news release. “Having the opportunity to wear their nation’s sweater in Sochi is something the players look forward to.”

For the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, the 2014 Winter Olympics are particularly meaningful because they are in Russia. He will be front and center as his home country plays host, serving as an ambassador for the Sochi Games as well as a torchbearer for the Olympic torch relay.

Ovechkin has been adamant that he would be part of the festivities in Sochi regardless if the NHL participated – Capitals owner Ted Leonsis even supported his star player’s stance. Now that NHL involvement is official, though, it makes the process simpler for all involved.

In addition to Ovechkin and top center Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden), other Capitals who could earn a place on an Olympic roster include Marucs Johansson (Sweden), Martin Erat (Czech Republic), Mike Green (Canada), Braden Holtby (Canada), John Carlson (USA), Michal Neuvirth (Czech Republic) and Tomas Kundratek (Czech Republic).

The preliminary round schedule for the Sochi Olympics can be found here.

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