As expected, NHL players will not be going to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The league made the news official on Wednesday morning with a statement that began:
With the National Hockey League’s regular-season schedule having been materially disrupted as a result of increasing COVID cases and a rising number of postponed games, the National Hockey League announced today that NHL Players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our Players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events -- 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 -- Olympic participation is no longer feasible. We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026.”
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the NHL has been postponing games over the last few weeks and announced Monday evening that it is pausing its season from Dec. 22 through Dec. 25.
When the NHL originally negotiated to allow Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026, it did so with the caveat that it could pull out by Jan. 10 without suffering financial repercussions if the season was “materially impacted” by games postponed because of the coronavirus. The players had pushed for inclusion after not being allowed to play in the 2018 games. They last participated in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“It’s something that players want for the most part. Honestly, there wasn’t really a negotiation about that,” said Jets forward Andrew Copp, a member of the NHL Players’ Association negotiating committee, in July.
The Olympic tournament is still set to take place between Feb. 9-20, but the 12 competing nations now will compile rosters made up of players who compete outside of the NHL. This could include players who play in various European professional leagues, players in North American minor leagues like the AHL, and current college players.
The 2021-22 NHL schedule included a break in February that would allow players who were selected to play in the Olympics. Now, with 50 games postponed and the season paused through Christmas, the NHL campaign has been impacted enough that the league felt the need to act on the caveat.
“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner,” Bettman said. “Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
The All-Star game is still set for Feb. 5, and the NHL and NHLPA will still work to give the players time off during that period.
The Flyers had several players under consideration for Olympic teams. Defenseman Ivan Provorov, who would likely have played on the Russian Olympic Committee team, was looking forward to the chance to go after not getting to play in 2018.
“So to be able to miss two chances to go to the Olympics would be really tough,” Provorov said Monday, the day before the decision was made. “But, you know, I think we’ve got to do what’s right.”
Forward Sean Couturier, who was in contention to make the Canadian national team, mentioned that he had concerns about the political environment.
“It’s 50-50 personally,” Couturier said in French before the Dec. 16 game against Montreal. “Not necessarily because of COVID, but everything around it, the political situation and everything, the three-to-five-week quarantine. ... Me personally, that scares me.”
Couturier elaborated on his concerns about the political situation, saying that players have questions about whom they would be able to go to for help if their countries were participating in the diplomatic boycott.
Goalie Carter Hart and forward Claude Giroux were also Team Canada hopefuls, while Cam Atkinson (U.S.) and Rasmus Ristolainen (Finland) were also in contention to represent their respective nations in Beijing.