With all that has been occurring surrounding COVID-19, the NHL announced today that players will not be eligible to travel to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics. This news comes after the announcement of a leaguewide shutdown from Dec. 22-25, effectively postponing all games over the next few days.
The News Makes Sense For The NHL
While it is disappointing for the players, coaches, and fans who will surely miss out on the festivities of the Olympics, this was the correct move by the league on all fronts. As COVID continues to affect the league and the entire world, it would have been unintelligent and unsafe to allow the players to travel to China in February.
On top of the mandated quarantine time, lack of fans or social aspects, and unknown surrounding the entire event, the recent postponement of NHL games also weighed heavily on the decision.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “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.”
The 2022 Olympics would have marked the first time since 2014 that NHL players took part in the games. It would also have been the first time since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that fans were treated to the best in the world on the international stage.
For the players, the news is certainly heartbreaking. While the Stanley Cup is usually near the top of a player’s career goals, representing their country is right there with it. For some, this could have been their final chance to play for their country and chase that Gold Medal.
“We missed the last Olympics and I see it as my chance to go now, Stars defenseman John Klingberg said recently. “I will be 34 or 35 next time. I would really like to play in an Olympics during my career so this would be my best chance. I went to a World Championship with Team Sweden and a World Junior Championship with Sweden, so what I am missing is a Stanley Cup and Olympics.”
Now, the games will be a time for younger players to step into the spotlight. The rosters are sure to be packed with storylines and top prospects but there is no doubt that the NHL players will be missed.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two [Olympics],” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I definitely feel for the 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.”
How The NHL Will Move Forward
With the news, the NHL will now work to realign its schedule throughout the month of February. Currently, a break is scheduled from Feb. 6-22 to make room for both the NHL All-Star Game and the Olympics. Now, the league plans to use that time after All-Star weekend either to complete games that were previously postponed or play games that were scheduled for later in the season.
In the end, the goal of the entire league remains to finish the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner. With the league already a couple of weeks behind and falling further every day, this decision became a no-brainer.
“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,” Bettman said in his statement.
For now, the NHL has not yet released an updated schedule for the month of February. The league will take a few days off from Dec. 22-25 and is scheduled to begin practicing again at 2 pm on Dec. 26, with the first games to be played on Dec. 27.
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Sam Nestler is a credentialed Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the Stars, the NHL, and college hockey. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!