The NHL is heading back to the Olympic Games, after it was announced earlier this month that the NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement to send NHL players to the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
That means the best hockey players in the world will be coming together to represent their home countries and compete for a gold medal. It will be the first time since 2014 that NHL players have competed on the international Olympic stage.
With that, let’s take a look at some of those players that could be participating in the Beijing Olympics.
What countries are participating in ice hockey in Beijing?
There will be 12 countries competing in men’s ice hockey for the gold medal in Beijing. The 12 will be split into three groups of four to kick off the preliminary round.
Group A will consist of the United States, Canada, Germany and China, who automatically got a bid as the host country. Group B will have the Russian Olympic Committee, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark. Group C will be Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Latvia.
Why didn’t the NHL send its players to the 2018 Olympics?
For the first time in five Winter Olympic Games, the NHL did not send its players to the Olympics in 2018.
Previously, the IOC covered travel, insurance, accommodations and other costs for NHL players. However, the IOC decided against it for 2018. When that was announced, the NHL decided to pull its players from going to the Olympics, also citing injury concerns that would affect the rest of the NHL season.
As a result, countries were forced to look elsewhere to fill out their rosters. Players were pulled from the AHL, European professional leagues and the NCAA level to participate in the Olympics.
Part of the reason for the NHL’s return in 2022 is because the IOC will cover those costs that they did not in 2018.
What players from the Sharks could be playing in Beijing?
For the San Jose Sharks, they really won’t be represented by your typical powerhouses like Canada and the United States. Rather, you’ll see Sharks on some of the smaller countries participating in the Olympics.
Erik Karlsson is the exception, as he is expected to patrol the blue line for Sweden. The two-time Norris Trophy winner helped Sweden to a silver medal in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics, the country’s eighth medal in men’s ice hockey at the Olympics. Karlsson scored the game winner of the semifinal game to send Sweden to the gold medal match, where the team fell to Canada 3-0, as Karlsson finished the tournament with eight points in six games. The veteran defenseman’s production has fallen off in recent seasons, but he still should be on Sweden’s roster going to Beijing.
Tomas Hertl will get his first crack at playing in the Olympics, representing Czech Republic.
The 27-year-old missed the 2014 Olympics after suffering a knee injury in December of 2013 that required surgery. Hertl could be the No. 1 center, with his only true competition for the spot being former Boston Bruin David Krejci. Well his spot with the Czechs is practically guaranteed, his future with the Sharks is not.
One of a handful of Swiss players in the NHL, Timo Meier will be one of the top players on the Switzerland squad playing in Beijing. Switzerland hasn’t had a ton of success at the Olympics, but the country also hasn’t had as much talent as it does now. With Meier and others like Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala, New Jersey's Nico Hischier and Nashville’s Roman Josi, the Swiss could pull off an upset or two at the Olympics.
He may not be known as one of the best NHL players, but Rudolfs Balcers is probably the top player out of Latvia. Balcers will get the chance to represent Latvia at the Olympics after the team qualified over France, Hungary and Italy. Latvia likely will finish at the bottom of the table, but could play spoiler like it did to Switzerland in 2014.
Lastly, Joachim Blichfeld will likely play for Denmark in February. Another country with only a handful of NHL players, Denmark qualified for the Olympics for the first time ever by defeating Norway in the qualifying tournament. Blichfeld finished that tournament with three points in three games and should fill a top-six role on the team.