NHL won't attend Beijing Games, NHLPA expecting to 'return to the Olympics in 2026'
NHL players will not be participating in the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The league and NHL Players’ Association announced their decision on Wednesday as the previously scheduled Olympic break will now be used to makeup games postponed by COVID-19 this season, which currently sits at 50.
The league had previously set a Jan. 10 deadline regarding participation at the tournament.
“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,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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 says the league will now use the previously scheduled break in the season to make up games that have been postponed.
“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.”
Later on Wednesday, National Hockey League Players' Association executive director Donald Fehr released a statement.
“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics. Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing," Fehr said. "COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.
“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed. But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important. We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.”
Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker expressed disappointment, but says the COC understands the NHL's decision.
“Today’s announcement by the NHL is undoubtedly disappointing for some hockey fans," Shoemaker said in a statement. "However, given the recent changes to the NHL schedule, the Canadian Olympic Committee understands the decision. There is an extraordinarily deep talent pool in Canadian hockey. We’re excited to rally behind the men’s team as it steps on to the ice for its first game on February 10th, attempting to win its fourth consecutive medal. And, together with fans from across the country, we will be cheering for Canada’s incredible women’s team as it competes for its seventh consecutive Olympic medal and fifth gold. We know that the top Canadian NHL players were excited to wear the Team Canada jersey, and we hope to see them get that opportunity once again in 2026.”
Beijing 2022 represents the second straight Winter Games the NHL has not been a part of, as the league also elected not send players to 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
The last time NHL players participated in the Olympics was in 2014 in Sochi, Russia when Canada took home the gold medal.
The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to run from Feb. 4 - 20.