The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have agreed not to send their players to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics men’s ice hockey tournament this February in Beijing, the parties announced on Wednesday.
The decision comes amid a COVID surge around the NHL, which not only impacts the 2021-22 regular-season schedule but also created concerns amongst potential Olympians that would have to travel to China.
On Monday, the NHL decided that it would begin its holiday break early — extending now from Dec. 22 through Dec. 26 rather than beginning on Christmas Eve — because 10 of its 32 teams were forced to pause as over 100 players were in the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
“Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026.”
The NHL and the NHLPA had negotiated a return to the Olympics for 2022 and 2026 after players did not participate at the 2018 Games in South Korea. In anticipation of that, almost the entire month of February after the NHL’s All-Star Game — which is still scheduled for Feb. 5 — was left open for the Olympic break.
Now, it appears as though February will be utilized to reschedule the 50 games that have been postponed while potentially moving up the end of the season that had been pushed back to the very end of April.
“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner,” Bettman said. “Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
One of the Winter Games’ marquee events will once again be without the top hockey players in the world, including Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who is 34 and could very well have missed out on one last opportunity to get to the Olympics with Team Canada.
“It would be disappointing, that’s the best way I can describe it,” Crosby said on Monday (h/t The Athletic). “Obviously, I know from experience how special and unique the Olympics are. And not only thinking about my experience, but thinking of the guys that haven’t had the opportunity to be part of it.
“And knowing what they could potentially miss. Yeah, I think just ‘disappointing’ would be the best way to describe it.”
The Games are also being robbed of some of the best young stars, like Edmonton Oilers talisman Connor McDavid, who has yet to compete at the Olympics.