Multiple outlets reported Tuesday that the NHL and NHLPA have agreed not to take part in the men’s hockey tournament at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. There has been no formal announcement.
NHL players did not represent their countries in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Participation in the next two Winter Games was negotiated into the most recent collective bargaining agreement with consideration that the NHL season schedule would be “materially impacted” by COVID-19, according to ESPN.
The NHL, players’ union, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation then reached an agreement in September, again with a pandemic caveat.
Tuesday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers became the 50th game of the NHL season to be postponed. Of those, 45 fell between Dec. 13-23.
The Associated Press reported that, according to a source, the league informed the NHLPA it was using its right to withdraw from the Olympics and that the union would not dispute the decision. The deadline to withdraw without financial penalty is Jan. 10, per the league website.
From the Colorado Avalanche, forwards Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog were already announced as Olympians for Finland and Sweden, respectively. Forward Nathan MacKinnon and defenseman Cale Makar were likely selections for Team Canada.
Forwards Andre Burakovsky (Sweden) and Valeri Nichushkin (Russian Olympic Committee), goaltender Darcy Kuemper (Canada) and defensemen Samuel Girard and Devon Toews (Canada) made cases for inclusion as well.
“It’s not up to me,” Toews said Dec. 10, a few days before the steady postponements began.
“I’m just going out there and trying to play my best hockey for the Avalanche right now and if that opportunity comes, I’d be grateful for it.”
Toews, 27, could have another chance. For several of the league’s older stars, the window was already closing.
“These are opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete, and you might only get one,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, a two-time gold medalist with Team Canada, told AP. “It just might happen to fall in your window and if it doesn’t happen to work out, it’s unfortunate.”
The NHL participated in the Olympics from 1998 to 2014. Ahead of the 2018 Games, league commissioner Gary Bettman cited owners’ concerns, including the long break required in the NHL schedule. The league ultimately did not carve one out.
The Feb. 7-22, 2022 break for the Olympics will likely be used to reschedule postponed games.
The Avalanche have four dates that need rescheduling - Dec. 18 at home vs. Tampa Bay; Dec. 20 at Detroit; Dec. 22 at Buffalo; and Dec. 23 at Boston. All four were postponed Friday. Five Colorado players, including Makar, Kuemper and Toews, had entered COVID-19 protocol over the previous few days. The Avalanche confirmed Saturday there were several additional positive COVID-19 test results.
For the Pyeongchang Games, without NHL players at their disposal, Canada and the U.S. looked to European leagues, the American Hockey League and even the college ranks. Canada won bronze while the Americans did not medal.
There is a talented pool of Russian athletes playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, largely considered the second-best hockey league in the world. Olympic Athletes from Russia took gold in 2018 and will be well situated to do the same in 2022 unless circumstances change.