The NHL and NHL Players Association have agreed that the players will not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, as first reported by Frank Seravalli. The NHL officially made the announcement on Wednesday.
The news comes after the NHL announced Monday that it would pause all games heading into the Christmas break as of Wednesday. A significant number of games had already been postponed, several teams had been shut down and all games requiring cross-border travel between the United States and Canada had already been halted.
The new outbreak of COVID sparked by the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant made Olympic participation seem implausible. If just traveling between the United States and Canada was an issue, how could the players safely travel to and from China? The threat of a positive test in Beijing that could have potentially kept a player in China for three to five weeks suddenly became very real with the spread of omicron. Also, with the NHL season now significantly impacted by these postponements, the league can make a reasonable argument that it needs the two-week break built into the regular season schedule for the Olympics in order to reschedule some of those postponed games.
While the decision to not allow players to participate in the Olympics felt inevitable, it remains unfortunate. Hockey fans have been robbed of the chance to see a best-on-best international tournament featuring several star players. Players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Artemi Panarin, Sebastian Aho, William Nylander, Nathan MacKinnon, Victor Hedman, Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Juuse Saros, Igor Shesterkin, Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson are just some of the star players who have not had a chance yet to participate in the Olympics.
This also leaves the Olympic future of veteran players like Alex Ovechkin in doubt. At 36 years old and with the next Olympic games four years away, has Ovechkin already played in his last Olympic tournament?
The disappointment of not being able to participate in the Olympics could potentially spark a push for a World Cup in the near future. While Olympic participation can be a thorny issue between the league and the NHLPA, the league has been more amenable to a world cup tournament in the past as such a tournament is typically run by the NHL and not governed by the IOC, thus the NHL is allowed to profit off of the tournament.
We may not be able to see the players in the Olympics for another four years, but that does not mean the hopes for a major international tournament have been dashed completely.