On Sept. 3, the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) reached an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to allow NHL players to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics from Feb. 4 – 20. That means Ottawa Senators fans will not get their regular fix of NHL hockey in the dead of winter – just when they need it most.
Some Senators fans would like to see Canada boycott the games because the Chinese government took Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig hostage to force the country to cancel the extradition of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou to the USA for violating US sanctions against Iran. Despite the political tension, most Canadians want to see best-on-best hockey again at the Olympics, which includes the NHL.
Although it took until the last minute to agree to let their players compete in Beijing, the NHL recognizes that China is a huge business opportunity for the league. It would be difficult to pass up a chance to showcase their talent. Barring the withdrawal of NHL players from the games due to a worsening Covid-19 situation, here are six Senators I think Ottawa fans may be able to watch in Beijing.
Calgary Flames’ Jacob Markstrom and the Vegas Golden Knights’ Robin Lehner are likely a lock to be Team Sweden’s goalies in Beijing. Still, the 23-year-old Gustavsson could get a look to be the third goaltender.
He will face tough competition for that spot from the Boston Bruins’ Linus Ullmark and former Senator Marcus Hogberg, who left the nation’s capital as a free agent to sign with Linkoping HC of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) in June.
I know Senators fans are lighting their hair on fire that Tkachuk is not a sure bet to make Team USA, but hear me out. Next to Canada, the United States has the deepest talent pool of any other Olympic hockey team. What’s more, as big a star as Tkachuk is in Ottawa he plays for what has been up to now one of the worst teams in the NHL in a small hockey market. American fans just won’t be clamouring for him to suit up for Team USA.
All of this means Tkachuk is probably not guaranteed a spot on the American roster. If he does make the team, he will likely be a fourth-liner.
Even so, there is a strong case for putting Tkachuk in a stars and stripes sweater. At just 21 years old, the 2020 NHL All-Star has 198 NHL games under his belt and is a 20-plus-goal scorer. His 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame combined with his tenacious style would bring fire to the American side, especially if he played on the same line as his brother Matthew Tkachuk of the Flames.
Tkachuk brings international experience to Team USA, having captained their 2017 team to a gold medal at the IIHF World U18 Championship. He also played in the 2018 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. He will be a big part of Team USA’s future, and it would be hard to leave him off a Beijing-bound plane in February.
To claim that any player other than goaltender Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens) or centre Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) is a lock for Team Canada is a mug’s game. Canada is so deep in talent that they could put together two or three teams with a legitimate shot at winning the Olympic tournament. That is why I hesitated to call Chabot a lock to wear the maple leaf.
Even so, the 24-year-old is considered one of the NHL’s top defencemen. His time with Canada’s Olympic team is now. This year, he, along with other young blueliners, will likely replace the old guard of Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, who battled valiantly for Canada in past Olympics.
One of nine German players in the NHL, Stutzle, the 19-year-old star, takes a back seat only to the Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl in goals scored last season (12), assists (17) and average ice time per game (15:44).
With the exception of Draisaitl, no other German came close to these numbers. Case closed.
The 29-year-old veteran of both the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and the NHL logged the third-highest points and average ice time of any Russian NHL defenceman last season.
A veteran of 317 KHL games, 336 in the NHL and years of representing Russia in international competition, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound blueliner is one of the best rearguards available to the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) – the team under whose banner Russian players must compete because their country was sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee for its long tradition of doping its athletes.
The 25-year-old Zub notched 14 points in 47 games with the Senators last season ranked fifth among the 13 Russian blueliners in the NHL.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound defender has extensive experience in the KHL (256 games) and has competed in various international tournaments including the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics where he was instrumental in helping The Olympic Athletes from Russia win the gold medal.
Not all NHL fans will be happy the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will interrupt the 2021-22 NHL season. However, for most hockey fans, watching their national team pursue Olympic gold in an international tournament that brings together the best in the game is an exceptional experience. It’s what most of them insisted the NHL deliver.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
Follow him on Twitter at @pquinney