TORONTO — The NHL is heading back to the Olympics.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced today during the league's all-star festivities that its players will be allowed to compete at the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina, Italy, and at the 2030 Games, which is currently without a host city.

"There is a recognition of how important this is to the players," Bettman said at a news conference. “Everybody felt on our ownership side that it was the right thing to do. … This really came down to doing something because the players really wanted it.”

IIHF president Luc Tardif smiled and said, “We made it" after two years worth of work that picked up over the past six months.

The NHL went to the Games five times between 1998 and 2014 — the last best-on-best men's tournament — before skipping the 2018 event for financial reasons.

The league was set to return to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, but backed out because of COVID-19 concerns.

Milan, barring another unforeseen circumstance, will be the first Olympics for a generation of stars led by Canadians Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar and Americans Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Adam Fox. The tantalizing rosters could see the likes of McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Connor Bedard on the same team battling for gold.

McDavid, a three-time NHL MVP and widely considered the best hockey player in the world, has been one of the most vocal players pushing for an Olympic return.

“I feel like it’s super important for hockey to go back,” the Edmonton Oilers centre said. “Talking about growing the game, doing all these things well, you got to have the best on best, play on the biggest stage in sport, and that’s the Olympics.”

The NHL also announced a four-team international tournament for 2025 that will include Canada, the United States, Sweden and Finland.

The "4 Nations Face-off" will be held next February in two yet-to-be-named cities in Canada and the United States.

"This marks a new era for international hockey," NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said. “We view this event as a building block to a larger World Cup.”

Bettman reiterated that the NHL would like to get on a cycle of having an international “best on best” tournament every two years.

The league last held a World Cup in 2016. That event featured an under-23 Team North America and Team Europe made up of small hockey powers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024.

With files from The Associated Press.