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Canada snapped a 50-year drought by winning men's hockey gold at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. ((Al Bello/Getty Images))

The 2010 Vancouver Games could be theend ofthe NHL's brief participation in Olympic hockey.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Reuters on Tuesday that, following Vancouver, his league may rethink its policy of suspending play in mid-season so players can compete in the Olympics.

That means the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, could be the first since the 1994 edition in Lillehammerto notfeature hockey's best men's players.

"It is a strain. It is a strain on the players, on the schedule and on our fans here," Bettman said at the Reuters media summit in New York.

"It has an impact on the momentum of the season and the benefits we get tend to be greater when the Olympics are in North America than when they're in distant time zones."

The NHL opened the door for its players to compete at the Olympics in Nagano, and allowed them to return for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where Canada won its first men's hockey gold since 1952. The arrangement continued for the 2006 Torino Games.

The league has already agreed to let its players compete in Vancouver, but Bettman saidco-operation beyond that is in doubt.

"Vancouver was an easy call because we're going to play the games in Canada. Salt Lake City was an easy call. Japan and Italy might not have given us in terms of focus, and attention and impact what we may have hoped from taking a 17-day break.

"I think after Vancouver we'll have to take a deep breath, debrief and make sure that when we balance the pros and cons from going to the Olympics, the pros exceed the cons if we're going to do it again," the commissioner said.

More European games on tap?

Bettman also said he was not worried about possible defections from the NHL, even among top Russian players who might want to play for Olympic gold before home crowds in Sochi.

"I'm not so sure that for two weeks once every four years somebody who's a great hockey player is going to give up the opportunity to play in the NHL," Bettman said.

The commissioner also said Tuesday his league is considering a dozen European cities as potential hosts for regular-season games.

"Our experience in London was terrific," Bettman said, referring to the season-opening two-game set between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks at London's O2 Arena in late September.

"There are rumours rampant that we might go to Prague or Stockholm next. We're looking at the options."

Bettman mentioned Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and various German cities among the possibilities.