Multiple media outlets reported Tuesday afternoon that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have reached an agreement to withdraw from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The NHL and NHLPA had previously agreed to allow players from the league to participate for their countries at both the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics. NHL players didn’t compete at the 2018 Olympics.
NHL breaks for Christmas to combat COVID-19 issues
From the time the two sides reached that agreement, a provision allowed the cancellation of the plan if COVID-19 significantly disrupted the 2021-22 NHL season. In particular, the league wanted the ability to use what would have been a two-week Olympic break to make up for games it canceled earlier in the season.
That scenario has come to pass. The NHL has postponed 50 games so far this year, the majority of those in just the past week. A total of 11 teams shut down activities as of Monday when the league announced it would begin its Christmas break two days early on Wednesday, providing a full four days off before players return to their teams on Sunday.
Players expressed both understanding and disappointment in regards to missing the Olympics.
“You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I’ve been able to accomplish that,” Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steve Stamkos, who would have played for Canada, told The Athletic on Tuesday. “You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”
With NHL players on the roster, the United States would also have entered the Beijing Olympics as a favorite to medal in men’s hockey.
“I think everyone was looking forward to this,” Winnipeg Jets winger Kyle Connor, a member of Team USA, said via ESPN.com. “We made it a big part of our collective bargaining agreement, as the players, to bring the Olympics back. Whether it’s about different circumstances, about going to China with COVID and everything, I think it would have been a great tournament.”
Mix of pros, amateurs to fill national rosters
The Beijing Olympics will still hold a men’s hockey tournament. However, nations will now build their rosters from players in other professional leagues and in the amateur ranks.
That could benefit the team representing Russia. The KHL – the professional hockey league of Russia – is the second-strongest hockey competition in the world behind the NHL, with many of Russia’s top players plying their trade in their home country.
The Olympic athletes from Russia won gold in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Canada should also be able to draw on a deep pool of junior players. The United States can choose from minor league professionals and college standouts, while traditional European powers like Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic will rely mostly on homegrown talent.