By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - The United States Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it has discussed a Plan B with USA Hockey should the National Hockey League decide not to send players to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
The NHL has participated in five consecutive Winter Games but its participation in South Korea is in doubt after the International Olympic Committee said it would no longer cover players' costs, which have been estimated at around $10 million.
"We have had discussions with USA Hockey about a Plan B if that does not happen," USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said on a conference call.
"Obviously it creates more challenges for them and for us from an organizational standpoint, we're still very hopeful the NHL players will be there.
"We know they (players) want to be there and we understand the challenges it creates for the league.
"We are certainly exploring all avenues that would allow that to happen."
Increasingly unhappy about shutting down operations in the middle of the season and turning their most valuable assets over to national team duty, NHL owners believe they are seeing little return on their Olympic investment.
International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel has been scrambling to strike a deal indicating the ice hockey's governing body would find the money to cover the costs.
However, there have been reports that the IIHF is seeking contributions from various federations, including Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, which would divert funds from grassroots programs.
The NHL and NHL Players Association are expected to make a decision on Pyeongchang in January.
The Russian doping scandal and the continuing fallout from the McLaren report released last Friday were also a hot topic, USOC chairman Larry Probst calling the doping crisis, "a five-alarm fire" that needs to be aggressively attacked.
The USOC said it supported the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation decision on Tuesday to pull the 2017 world championships out of Sochi and award them to another venue but was against any form of boycott.
Latvia pulled out of the Feb. 13-26 championships following the publication last week of the second part of the McLaren Report into Russian doping which revealed an institutional conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests.
"We fully support the decision that bobsled made today, it seemed like the right thing to do given how strongly the athletes felt about going to Russia," said Blackmun.
"We're not in favor of sport-by-sport boycotts by our athletes."
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)