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NHL agrees to Olympic return in 2022, 2026; IOC talks next

The format may be a little different, but the quest for the Stanley Cup remains the same as the stage is set for the NHL to make its return.

As part of the NHL/NHLPA return-to-play deal, the four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement includes a return to the Olympics.

This agreement states the league will allow players to go to Beijing, China in 2022 and Milan, Italy in 2026. NHL players participated in five Winter Olympics from 1998-2014, but did not attend the 2018 PyeongChang Games in South Korea.

While the league and players have green-lit Olympic participation, that is only the first step in the process. Next comes discussions with the International Olympic Committee and overcoming hurdles that led to sitting out 2018 and years of complaints from NHL owners.

Pausing the season for three weeks, a lack of financial support for player insurance, travel, as well as the inability to use highlights have been among the biggest gripes from the league side. Players have long wanted to go to represent their countries and attempt to win gold. It was always a contentious point of discussion and a long-term plan -- including a full international competition calendar -- was going to be part of CBA talks.

[MORE: Can Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?]

While the league has been strongly against going to the Olympics, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly did say in February that future participation would have to be tied into labor peace.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told the Associated Press he’s confident a deal can get done.

“No, I don’t think there’s a deal breaker,” Fasel said. “There are a lot of challenges, but I think in principle I would say the news that that’s in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.”

As a reminder, here are the groups for 2022:

Group A: Canada (1), USA (6), Germany (7), China (12)
Group B: Russia (2), Czech Republic (5), Switzerland (8), Qualifier 3 (11)
Group C: Finland (3), Sweden (4), Qualifier 1 (9), Qualifier 2 (10)

The final three qualifying spots will be determined in August 2021 with the winner of each group advancing:

Group D: Slovakia, Belarus, Austria, Poland
Group E: Latvia, France, Italy, Hungary
Group F: Norway, Denmark, South Korea, Slovenia

It took a global pandemic, but we got labor peace and a potential return to the Olympics.

MORE: Updated NHL critical dates calendar


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.