For days and weeks, things were heading in the direction of NHL player Olympic participation getting axed.
On Tuesday, it was reported that there was an agreement between the NHL and NHLPA not to send players to the Olympics, and that was confirmed Wednesday morning.
Commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. Accordingly, 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,” Bettman said in a statement. “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. 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.
“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. Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr released a statement, which furthers the notion that the NHL and NHLPA agreed that this was the right call.
“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,” Fehr said. “Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.
“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed. But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important. We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.?”
The sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, forcing the temporary pause of the NHL season, cast doubt on the likelihood of NHL players participating in the Olympics for the first time since 2014. Further, players were already getting concerned after it was revealed that a 3-to-5-week quarantine in China would be required if a player tested positive for the virus overseas.
As Bettman indicated, there will be attempts to reschedule some of the postponed games for that time frame, but arenas might be booked, to a degree, with NBA games and other events.
Things will continue to be moved rapidly, but at this point one thing is for certain: NHL players won’t head to Beijing.