NHL players will be heading to Beijing in February to go for golden glory.
After months of “will-they go, won’t they go” speculation, The International Ice Hockey Federation, the NHL, and the NHL Players’ Association have officially reached an agreement that will allow NHL players to represent their countries at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The World’s Best Players Step Back into the Spotlight
McDavid, Matthews, Petterson, Svechnikov, Barkov… the list of top-tier talent champing at the bit for a gold medal could go on and on. Having the stars back in the spotlight where they belong will be a massive boost for the men’s hockey tournament, which took a huge hit without them.
NHL players last participated in the Winter Olympics in 2014 in Sochi and did not participate in 2018 when the Olympics were in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The NHL’s decision to pull out of those games was due to a number of factors, including a dispute between the league and the International Olympic Committee over the costs incurred by NHLers and who would cover them, concerns players could get injured and impact the result of the season, and the disruption a long break in the schedule to accommodate the Olympics would have.
The NHL and players agreed to Olympic participation as part of an extension to the collective bargaining agreement through the 2025-26 season that was signed in July 2020, and an Olympic break was built into the 2021-22 schedule (no games are scheduled between Feb. 3 and Feb. 20, 2022.)
However, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to keep players out of a second-straight Olympics anyway. “The agreement also provides the NHL and NHLPA with flexibility to monitor the COVID-19 situation and, ultimately to not send NHL players if the COVID conditions require such,” an IIHF news release states.
Excitement Abounds from All Sides
“I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics,” IIHF President René Fasel said in the same news release. “We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set out for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment.”
“We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries,” Bill Daly, deputy commissioner for the NHL, added. “We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage.“
Many players have also spoken about wearing their country’s colours on the world stage being a dream come true, including McDavid, Victor Hedman, and Ryan McDonagh.
The tournament will include 12 countries seeded into three groups. Canada, the ROC, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, USA, Germany, and Switzerland will joined by tournament hosts China and the three teams that qualified last month: Denmark, Latvia, and Slovakia.
Men’s ice hockey has been a part of every Winter Olympics since 1924. Canada leads the way with nine gold medals, followed by the Soviet Union with seven, and the United States with two. NHL players first participated in the Olympics in 1998.