NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the league announced Wednesday.
The NHL said the decision was made due to disruption to the league’s regular season schedule due to rising COVID-19 cases, which has resulted in a growing number of postponed games.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL players to represent their country in a tournament featuring the best players in the world. Therefore, we waited as long as possible before making this decision in order to explore all options that would have allowed our players to participate in the Winter Olympics, said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Unfortunately, due to the significant disruption to the NHL regular season schedule due to recent COVID-related events — 50 games have already been postponed as of December 23 — participation in the Olympic Games is no longer possible.
“We recognize the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Games Organizing Committee to welcome the NHL players, but the current circumstances make it impossible for us to move forward despite the sustained efforts of everyone. We are looking to participate in the 2026 Games.”
The NHL and the AJLNH had agreed with the IIHF in September so that the players return to the Olympic Games. The Olympiques would have been the first to feature NHL players since 2014 in Sochi. The tournament would have been the first international competition between all the best players in the world since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.
A break had been scheduled in the regular season schedule between Feb. 3 and Feb. 22 to include the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas as well as the Olympics. NHL All-Star Weekend will take place as scheduled with the Skills Contest presented by DraftKings Sportsbook on February 4 and the All-Star Game on February 5.
“Our goal has always been, and must remain, to responsibly and safely complete the entire NHL regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner,” added Bettman. Thus, with the reinstatement of rigorous sanitary protocols, we will begin to use the dates available between February 6 and 22 (period initially planned to accommodate participation in the Olympic Games) in order to reschedule matches that have been rescheduled, or who might be. »
Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, who won gold medals with Canada in 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi, understood the decision to withdraw from the 2022 edition.
« It would have been great for our game to have the NHL players go there, » Toews said. But from what I hear, and it’s my opinion as well, the players are going to put their health and that of their families and their teams before the Games rather than going to Beijing and having to deal with very unpredictable scenarios. In my opinion, this is the right thing to do. Our schedule is completely messed up right now, so maybe we can fix that and not have a busy schedule that’s going to go on for a very long time. »
NHL players participated in five consecutive Olympic Games between 1998 and 2014 before skipping the Pyeongchang Games in 2018. The League’s position was that Olympic Games participation had too great an impact on the course of his season, especially when the Games are not presented in North America.
The players were keen to return to the Olympics, however, and when the NHL and the NHLPA extended the collective agreement last year until 2025-26, they agreed on the League’s participation in the Beijing Games in 2022. and Milan/Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026 if they manage to reach an agreement with the FIHG. But this agreement included a clause that allowed the League to withdraw from the Olympiques if the COVID-19 forced the resumption of games during the scheduled break.
“Since we agreed to extend the collective agreement 17 months ago, NHL players have been very eager to participate in the Olympic Winter Games again,” noted NHLPA executive director Don Fehr. Until recently, we seemed to be able to get to Beijing without a hitch. Unfortunately, COVID-19 got involved, causing the postponement of dozens of matches since the beginning of the month. Even if we absolutely did not want to come to this, we need to use the period of the Olympic Games to postpone these games. Hockey players and fans are obviously very disappointed. Nonetheless, playing a full 82-game season this season, something we haven’t been able to achieve since 2018-19 due to the pandemic, is very important. We expect NHL players to return to the Olympics in 2026.”
Following NHL Board of Governors meetings on Dec. 10, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about a potential scenario that would cause the NHL to pull itself out of the 2022 Olympics. Commissioner Bettman replied: « Let’s assume that there were to be significant outbreaks in a number of teams and that we had to cancel a lot of games that would have to be resumed, and it would be clear that it would be impossible to postpone them without having to take extraordinary measures, for example resorting to the days off scheduled during the break. »
No deadline had been set for the NHL to withdraw from the Olympics, but Daly said there would have been costs to cover if that decision had been made after Jan. 10, 2022.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby was looking forward to his third Olympic Games, having won gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014. The 34-year-old is unsure if this would have been his last chance to play on the Olympic stage.
« It’s hard to pull off because we really thought we’d have a chance to go this time, » Crosby said. I had the chance to participate in two editions. I feel bad for the players who missed several chances. It’s not something you can do again in a year or a few months. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and you don’t get a lot of it as an athlete. Some will only have one chance. The timing is bad, and it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t work. »
In the absence of NHL players, national federations will have to build their men’s hockey training with players who play in other leagues. USA Hockey senior assistant manager John Vanbiesbrouck indicated Dec. 14 that Plan B would be to use players from the American Hockey League (AHL), European leagues, NCAA and players who have taken part in the Games. of Pyeongchang in 2018, in which NHL players had not participated.
« It’s a difficult situation for everyone, » said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who represented the United States in 2010 and 2014. “You’re excited to have the chance to represent your country. Of course, I’m 33 now, so you hope to still be able to participate as often as possible. But I don’t know if we would have had the real Olympic experience this year because of the bubble and all the worries. »