NHL not going to Olympics due to COVID-19 surge

The NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement to not have players participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament in Beijing, multiple sources told ESPN.

The NHL and NHLPA had negotiated Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026 into their newest collective bargaining agreement after NHL players did not participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The only caveat for the Beijing Olympics in February 2022 was if the current NHL regular season was “materially impacted” by COVID-19 postponements. As of Dec. 21, the NHL has postponed 50 games because of outbreaks on teams and has paused its season through Christmas, apparently meeting that threshold.

The NHL had until Jan. 10 to opt out of Olympic participation without financial penalty and the NHLPA said it expected a decision on participation to be made before that date.

A formal announcement on opting out of the Beijing Games is expected within the next 24 hours.

Attention will now turn to using the scheduled break for the Olympics — Feb. 6-22 — for rescheduling games. The NHL All-Star game is still scheduled for Feb. 5.

Sources say those could include currently postponed games or potentially games that are scheduled for later in the season being moved up on the schedule, given the lack of arena availability during the break. While the NHL asked its arenas not to book events during the break on the chance that players didn’t participate in the Olympics, many buildings booked concerts and other events, seeking to make up for their own lost revenue during the pandemic.

It’s expected there will still be some semblance of a break in the schedule for the players. Predators general manager David Poile told ESPN 102.5 The Game in Nashville that he believed there would be a “compromise” for the amount of time players will have off, with games being crammed into the final week of that break. He also floated the idea that the regular season could be extended by a week.

News of the expected Olympic decision was met with frustration and sadness from the players that would have represented their nations at the Beijing Games.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two [Olympics]. I definitely feel for the they guys who have missed numerous opportunities. It’s not something where it’s the next year or you push it a couple of months. These are experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

Two Winnipeg Jets players that appeared headed for Team USA expressed their regret on Tuesday.

“Yeah, that sucks. I think everyone was looking forward to this. We made it a big part of our collective bargaining agreement as the players, to bring the Olympics back,” said Kyle Connor. “Whether it’s about different circumstances about going to China with COVID and everything, I think it would have been a great tournament.”

Goalie Connor Hellebuyck, a potential starter for the Americans, was worried about his status for the 2026 Olympics in Italy.

“If the next one’s in four years, I’ll be 32. I know I’ll be playing my best hockey, but it’s going to be a different story,” he said.

The Olympic rosters will now be filled by a combination of amateur players and professionals playing in leagues outside of the NHL. That could include North American minor leagues, and overseas professional leagues like Russia’s KHL. This was the setup for teams in the Pyeongchang Olympics, where the Olympic Athletes from Russia won gold.

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