The National Hockey League made it official yesterday when they put out a press release announcing that the league will not send its players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
The reason cited by the league was the disruption of the regular season due to postponing of games due to rising COVID illnesses and positive tests affecting teams.
As of yesterday – when the NHL made the statement official, 50 games had been postponed through today (December 23). These include all cross-border games between US- and Canada-based teams through the Christmas break.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in the press release that 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. 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.”
Bettman concluded the statement by saying: “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. 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.”
It is interesting that they will be using the two-week period in February that was supposed to be the Olympic break to make up postponed games. It was obviously there as a fall back for that reason – to serve this purpose should the Olympic deal fall through for whatever reason – but more from a logistical standpoint.
I know that there is a lot of leeway built in, it’s just amazing that teams will be able to have their arenas available to them and television outlets such as ESPN and TNT, neither of which was scheduled to be showing hockey during that time (the Olympic tournament was to be shown on NBC and their family of networks, including streaming service Peacock, as with the rest of the Games), can be called upon to suddenly have to broadcast games nationally.
Again, I know that they there are contingencies and that they are on standby with this stuff, it is just really kind of amazing to me, but I digress.
Anyway, with the NHL not sending players to the Olympics in February, each country must pivot to figure out how to assemble a team for to actually send to play in China.
Teams like the USA and Canada are suddenly at a disadvantage and things become more wide open for a country like Germany. Germany had a good showing at the 2018 Olympics, which also did not feature NHL players.
The ROC becomes the prohibitive gold medal favorite due to Russian players still being available from the KHL. But the North American teams will need to scramble to gather professional players playing overseas along with a sprinkling of lower-level prospects from college, juniors and minor leaguers.
Remember that the 2018 Games featured former Devil Brian Gionta, without a professional contract and very much at the backend of his career, suiting up for Team USA. When you factor in that the 2022 edition of this team will now have even less time to get players than the 2018 team did, well… it should make for some interesting rosters.
But that will be a problem that will be addressed after Christmas. For now, the international hockey schedule has us all looking forward to the 2022 World Junior Championship getting underway on December 26 from Red Deer and Edmonton, Alberta.
We will try to have as much coverage as possible here – bearing in mind that the games are Edmonton time and getting recaps and news up in a timely fashion is always difficult with those later starts.
Until then, have a very merry Christmas and stay safe everyone!