After days of speculations and leaks about the future of Olympic participation, the NHL has officially announced that players will not be going to Beijing, and that there will be no Olympic Break. Games that have been postponed will be made up during that time.
From the league’s press release:
With the National Hockey League’s regular-season schedule having been materially disrupted as a result of increasing COVID cases and a rising number of postponed games, the National Hockey League announced today that NHL Players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. 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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “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. We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026.
“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.”
The league has made this announcement very NHL and North America centered, but another concern for the league and players had to have been China’s draconian quarantine policy. All players save for Tyler Bertuzzi are vaccinated, so they could skip the 21 day quarantine before the games, but if they test positive while in Beijing there’s a rumored five-week quarantine period before being allowed to leave. At the very least, athletes who test positive will be taken to Chinese state designated medical centers for treatment, which more than likely makes the NHL very uneasy about allowing athlete participation.
Players are disappointed, and rightfully so. They were unable to participate in 2018’s games in PyeongChang, and for some, this could be their last opportunity to skate with their national team. As Steven Stamkos told The Athletic (subscription required):
“Any time you can put on your respective country’s jersey in a best-on-best event, there’s really no feeling like that. So it’s difficult. Whether I was going to be on the team or not, this was my third legitimate chance of playing in the Olympics and here I’m not going to play a game. It sucks when you look at it like that. At the same time, there’s not much we can do. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
That’s the dominant feeling - this sucks, it’s unfortunate, but it’s the right call.
As far as Blues’ potential participants in the games, it looks like Jordan Binnington would be the player most likely to lose out. He has been rumored to be on Team Canada’s shortlist for goaltenders, and with the Doug Armstrong connection, very well could’ve made the cut. At 28 years old, he should still be on the short list for the 2026 games in Milan.
At 30 years old, Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly should also still be available to play in the next Winter Olympics should Team USA call on him. The same goes for Vladimir Tarasenko, who should still have one more shot to play for the Russian team. Pavel Buchnevich as well should be fine for the next go-round.
The biggest issue is that this, yet again, limits the exposure of the NHL to the world. It’s difficult enough to have the sport of hockey be talked up and publicized with games airing live at 3 AM, but it’s even harder to advertise the game with 3 AM start times and zero recognizable current stars. Right now, the league has to worry more about the health and safety of their players - and their ability to begin play after break.
Blues head coach Craig Berube summarized it best:
“I think it’s disappointing, but it’s reality. The guys that are going, and our general manager (Doug Armstrong) managing the team, it’s disappointing for me to think about some of our guys not going or our general manager not being able to participate in the Olympics. It’s a great honor to be able to go. But the fact is, this COVID, it’s everywhere, and the NHL has got to do what they’ve got to do.”
That’s the pandemic in a nutshell - disappointing, but reality.