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NHL players to return to Winter Olympics for 2026, 2030

As Paris Olympics beckon, Tirico reflects on 2023
As 2023 nears an end and another Olympic year awaits, Mike Tirico reflects on the gold standards of Simone Biles, Mikaela Shiffrin, Sha'Carri Richardson, Ilia Malinin, Caeleb Dressel, Jordan Stolz, Erin Jackson and more.

NHL players are set to participate in the Olympics for the first time since 2014 after an agreement was announced Friday.

The NHL, the NHL Players’ Association and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) came to terms to take part in the 2026 Milano-Cortina Games and the 2030 Winter Games. The IOC is in advanced discussions to possibly award the 2030 Games to France.

“The NHL, NHLPA and IIHF have outlined and agreed to the major principles related to the players’ participation, with details to be finalized over the coming months,” according to a press release.

The league did not send its players to the last two Winter Olympics.

In 2020, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a new collective bargaining agreement that included Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026, at the players’ urging, but there still needed to be agreements among the NHL, IOC and IIHF.

NHL players were set to take part in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games until a reversal six weeks before the Opening Ceremony. The league needed the Olympic break back to help make up for the 50 canceled regular season games up to that point due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC did not come to an agreement.

The NHL has historically had concerns over Olympic participation, including the risk of player injuries, the league’s inability to use the Olympics for marketing due to sponsorship rules and travel costs.

The U.S. rosters for the last two Olympics were made up of collegians, minor leaguers and players in European leagues.

Eight of the 12 Olympic teams for 2026 have already qualified — host Italy, plus Canada, Finland, the U.S., Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Czechia (formerly called the Czech Republic).

Russia and Belarus have been banned from IIHF competitions such as the world championships since shortly after the invasion of Ukraine.

As of late October, the IIHF was keeping Russia’s men’s hockey team eligible for the 2026 Winter Olympics in case it lifts its ban.

Even though Russian hockey players’ last international competition was the 2022 Olympics, the nation is still ranked third in the world, which would have been high enough to qualify for the 2026 Winter Games last year.

Most of the NHL’s top players have yet to compete in an Olympics due to the absences in 2018 and 2022.

Some notable veterans do have Olympic experience, including two-time gold medalist Sidney Crosby of Canada and Alex Ovechkin, whose Russian teams placed fourth, fifth and sixth in his three Olympics.

Crosby said after Friday’s announcement that he would “love to” play at a third Olympics.

“To see the best players go head to head representing their country, from my experience I don’t know if you get better hockey than that,” he said, adding later, “It’s something you have to earn, though. It’s not something that’s given to you. If you’re representing your country, then you’ve got to earn it.”

If Crosby is in the running for Canada’s team in 2026 at age 38, it will be something of a full-circle story.

In 2006, the last time Italy hosted the Winter Olympics, an 18-year-old Crosby was notably left off the Canadian roster. When the Canadian team was named in December 2005, Crosby was tied for 14th in the NHL in points among Canadian skaters. No teenager has played for Canada at an Olympics with NHL players, according to the OlyMADMen.

In 2026, Crosby can become the third-oldest Canadian man to play Olympic hockey in the NHL participation era after Martin St. Louis (2014) and Al MacInnis (2002).

Ovechkin will be 40 years old come the 2026 Games. He would be the second-oldest man from Russia to play Olympic hockey after Igor Larionov in 2002.