The NHL announced its players will not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics, citing the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the NHL regular season.
“We have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press release. “Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events — 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 — Olympic participation is no longer feasible.”
Both Bettman and NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr looked forward to NHL players in the 2026 Olympics in Italy.
“NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,” Fehr said in a Wednesday statement. “Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened.”
The news came after the league extended its holiday break to Wednesday through Saturday and brought the season total to 50 game cancellations.
While Olympic participation was agreed to last year, the recent pandemic surge caused reconsideration.
Bettman said on Dec. 10 the Olympic decision lay with the players — unless the league’s regular season “is in trouble because of COVID.”
“Let’s assume a number of teams came down with major outbreaks, and in effect we were missing lots and lots of games that had to be rescheduled and it became clear that we couldn’t reschedule without doing something else, including using some portion of the [Olympic] break,” Bettman said Dec. 10.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly interjected.
“We have an agreement that any material disruption to our season would certainly give us cause to withdraw,” he said.
Bettman said in Wednesday’s release that dates during the February Olympic window will be used to reschedule regular season games.
Several NHL stars expressed recent concern about Olympic participation with Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner the one notable to say he definitely would not play. Some noted uncertainty about what happens if a player tests positive for the virus while in China.
The latest Olympic playbook states that athletes who test positive will be discharged if they meet certain health conditions, including two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart, and in accordance with guidelines in China.
Beijing will mark the second consecutive Winter Games without active NHL players, who participated from 1998 through 2014. In 2018, the U.S. used players from European leagues, American minor leagues and the NCAA system. The U.S. is expected to choose from that kind of player pool again this time.
The reason for not participating in 2018: NHL executives and owners were largely against disrupting the regular season, especially when the Olympics aren’t in the U.S. or Canada. In 2017, Bettman cited a lack of concessions from the IOC, IIHF or the NHL Players’ Association to entice participation in PyeongChang.
Last year, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a new collective bargaining agreement that included Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026, at the players’ urging.
Some NHL superstars may have played their last Olympics.
Sidney Crosby, who scored the 2010 Olympic final golden goal, will be 38 years old come the next Winter Games in 2026 in Italy. Only two older Canadian men have played at the Olympics in the NHL era — Martin St. Louis in 2014 and Al MacInnis in 2002, according to Olympedia.org.
Crosby may have incentive to go for 2026, however, given he was controversially left off the Canadian team the last time the Olympics were held in Italy in 2006.
Alex Ovechkin, yet to win an Olympic medal, will be 40 years old come 2026. One older Russian man has played at the Olympics — Igor Larionov in 2002, according to Olympedia.
Other NHL stars may never play in the Olympics. Notably Steven Stamkos, who was left off Canada’s team in 2010 at age 19 (during a season in which he co-led the NHL in goals), then missed the 2014 Olympics with a broken tibia. He will turn 36 during the 2026 Olympics.
“It sucks,” Stamkos said Tuesday. “You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup. I’ve been able to accomplish that. You grow up wanting to represent your country at the Olympics and winning a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”
Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Leon Draisaitl haven’t played at the Olympics but will still be 30 or younger come the 2026 Winter Games.
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