Concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic — along with a wave of shutdowns across the league — has forced the NHL to prohibit its players from leaving for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The NHL and NHLPA announced the decision in a joint statement Wednesday:
“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics. Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.
“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed. But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important. We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.”
The news comes just days after the NHL said that it would be postponing all games and practices from Dec. 22-25, and that players will need to return to their teams on Dec. 26. The day following Christmas will be used for testing, and any practices scheduled for that day must be held after 2 p.m. local time.
It said the schedule will resume on Monday, Dec. 27.
MORE: NHL postpones five remaining games, moves Christmas break to start on Wednesday
NHL players have in the past filled up Olympic hockey rosters. So why won’t they be competing in the Olympics in 2022? Sporting News breaks it down.
Why NHL players aren’t going to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing
The first game in the Winter Olympics is scheduled to be held on Feb. 9 between the Russian Olympic Committee and Switzerland. With the start months away, it would seem that players would have plenty of time to quarantine and be prepared for the games without any problem.
But between the upcoming break and the games already lost by COVID-19, the NHL has a flurry of postponed matchups it will need to make up. According to the Daily Faceoff , there were 44 games postponed last week, and with the postponement of the remaining five games between Dec. 22 and 25, the total comes up to 49. It also reported that there are 118 players in active COVID-19 protocol. In addition, 10 teams had already shut down its facilities, according to the report.
NHL players had been permitted to compete in the 2022 Olympic Games in the 2020 collective bargaining agreement , and they were granted a break to compete in the games. However, the CBA acknowledged that there could be a situation where the schedule “may need to be altered or modified to adjust for unforeseen and compelling circumstances.”
MORE: NHL introduces enhanced COVID-19 protocols
The NHL currently has no games scheduled between Feb. 3 and Feb. 23 with ice hockey set to take place in Beijing between Feb. 9 and Feb. 20. The league has sent players to the Olympics five times, all coming between 1998 and 2014.
Before the NHL and NHLPA decided to shut down the regular season for the holiday break, they had ceased cross-border travel, calling off any game that had a Canadian-based team playing a U.S.-based team, the sides said in a joint statement . In addition, they announced player participation in the Olympics had become a topic of discussion.
“Given the disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events 27 games had been postponed as of Saturday and at least 12 more will be postponed through Dec. 23 and the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days,” the statement read.
World Juniors rosters: United States | Canada
Will the 2022 Olympics be postponed?
While NHL players hoping for a chance at a gold medal would benefit from the games being pushed back due to the rise in cases, it seems unlikely the Games will be moved.
According to a report from Yahoo Sports , Juan Antonio Samaranch, the chair of the Coordination Commission for the Beijing Games, said that the games will start on Feb. 4, as originally planned, and that there are no plans to push it back. Samaranch said that Beijing has a “closed loop” system that will be prepared to handle everything.
“The answer is no,” Samarach said, according to Yahoo Sports, when asked about the games being postponed.
The 2020 Olympics had been pushed back to 2021 due to the pandemic.