No surprise, NHL players disappointed to miss 2022 Winter Olympics
With COVID-19 cases swelling and potentially harsh quarantine measures hovering, the NHL and NHLPA made it official: NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
For some, there might be a measure of relief. If they were already worried about making the call, the NHL and NHLPA instead made it for them. Right or wrong, there’s a drive to “fit in” in hockey culture.
But you know all of those talks about “childhood dreams?” The stuff dusted off before every Winter Classic? Those apply to NHL players dreaming of Olympic play. As much as they wanted to win a Stanley Cup, those players also dreamed of piling up gold medals.
(And, as they grew older, NHL players likely dreamed of ... uh, having fun during their time at the Olympic village.)
Here are how some NHL players reacted to not going to the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Kane, others lament not being able to play for U.S. Olympic team in 2022
Yes, Patrick Kane played for the U.S. in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. He never got to win the gold, though, and at 33, it’s fair if Kane wonders if he’ll get another chance.
So, Kane is disappointed, especially since he could’ve been more of a veteran presence this time around. He also seems aware of the unfortunate realities NHL players may have faced if they did participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
"[I was] definitely fortunate to play in Sochi, and Vancouver was just unbelievable. I don’t think the Olympic experience will be even close to comparable to what we had there in 2010,” Kane said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. " ... [But I] felt like I would’ve had the chance to be in a leadership role this year, so it would’ve been fun to play with a lot of younger players and some great players around the league.”
[Glimpses of what the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team might have looked like]
Back before it was clear NHL players wouldn’t go to the 2022 Winter Olympics, Canadian John Tavares pondered facing Maple Leafs teammates Auston Matthews (who would naturally rep the U.S.).
“It’d be a lot of fun. Obviously unique and pretty different,” he said back in October. “I think we’ll be looking at each other a little bit differently than we do today and throughout the season.”
Leaf through PHT’s pre-season projections for the U.S. Olympic team, and Kane seems spot-on in thinking they’d be “pretty competitive.”
Between Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson, and others, the would-be U.S. Olympic hockey team looked loaded in net. However you feel about Seth Jones, USA Hockey’s come a startlingly long way on defense. And the mix of aging forwards like Kane with up-and-comers like Matthews would have been a delight.
[And don’t forget players like Troy Terry, whose U.S. Olympic stock was skyrocketing.]
If future Winter Olympics involve NHL players, many will get another shot -- for the U.S., and other countries. But just like with 2018, the 2022 Winter Olympics carry painful “What if?” questions.
“It was going to be an awesome opportunity, but I guess this is just what we have to deal with,” said Hellebuyck.
Crosby, others lament not being able to play for Team Canada
Sure, it’s probably a little bit different for Sidney Crosby. He has that iconic “golden goal,” one he scored after screaming “Iggy!” in overtime during the 2010 Winter Olympics. And Crosby won gold with Team Canada again in 2014.
Of course, superstars like Crosby always want to add more, more, more to their trophy cases. So it’s not surprising that Crosby told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun (sub. required) about how “disappointing” it would be for NHL players to miss the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Crosby was quick to note those who haven’t had a chance to score a golden goal of their own, either.
[Before the season, PHT projected possible Team Canada Olympic rosters]
It’s already disappointing not to see Connor McDavid in that setting. But few players stick out in that way more than Steven Stamkos, who hasn’t repped Team Canada in the Olympics due to a mix of injuries and just general bad luck.
“You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I’ve been able to accomplish that,” Stamkos said, via The Athletic’s Joe Smith. “You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”
Interestingly, Stamkos also noted to Smith that he would have participated in the 2022 Winter Olympics if he had the choice, even with quarantine concerns.
Steven Stamkos has always been optimistic on Olympics, saying last week he’d go even with the protocols. Said ultimately it’ll be league’s decision not to send players “I was still comfortable if I made the team to go but it looks like we're not even have that decision (to make)”— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithNHL) December 21, 2021
At 31, it’s not totally impossible for Stamkos to get another Olympic shot. Especially if he plays like he has this season. But you can’t blame him if he wonders if this was his last chance.
Would-be top Sweden defenseman and Stamkos’ Lightning teammate Victor Hedman tried to point out a rather obvious silver lining. There’s still another Stanley Cup to chase.
Hopefully, the NHL can navigate this new set of COVID challenges and award a 2022 Stanley Cup champion -- safely, and as fairly as possible.
But fans aren’t the only ones bummed about NHL players missing out on the 2022 Winter Olympics. Players clearly are frustrated, too.