The NHL has decided not to send players to the Beijing Olympics due of worries that the epidemic would prevent the league from finishing a full season.
The NHL notified the NHL Players’ Association on Tuesday that it was exercising its right to withdraw from the Beijing Games due to a major interruption to the season, according to two people with direct knowledge of the conversations.
The persons talked to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because no official announcement had been made. On Wednesday, an announcement was expected.
The decision is a sharp contrast to the agreement reached in September between the NHL, the NHL Players’ Association, the International Olympic Committee, and the International Ice Hockey Federation to bring the best players in the world back to sports’ biggest stage after they boycotted the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Those preparations had to be scrapped due to the fast-spreading omicron coronavirus strain.
The NHL sought to stem the spread of the omicron variant a week ago by reinstituting more stringent COVID-19 measures, which included daily testing and restricted player gatherings, particularly on the road.
Then, in February, an unexpected outbreak of postponements raised the total to 50, a daunting amount to reschedule and finish an 82-game season while taking an Olympic vacation of more than two weeks. The NHL’s bottom line is on the line, as the league and its players do not get any direct financial benefit from participation in the Winter Games.
The decision was made well before the league’s deadline of Jan. 10 to withdraw without incurring financial penalties. As a result, for the second year in a row, the men’s Olympic hockey event will be played without NHL players.
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets, who is expected to start for the United States in the Olympics, expressed disappointment Tuesday with the decision not to attend and termed the wave of postponements “overkill.”
Sidney Crosby, the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was already preparing for the likelihood that the NHL would not participate, therefore terminating what may be his final opportunity to represent Canada at the Olympics at the age of 34.
Crosby, who won Olympic gold with Canada in 2010 and 2014, said, “These are once-in-a-lifetime events and experiences that you don’t get very often as an athlete, and you might only get one.” “It could fall in your window by chance, and if that doesn’t work out, it’s sad.”
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to participate in the Olympics as part of a collective bargaining agreement extension last year, but the commitment to go to Beijing was conditional on pandemic circumstances not deteriorating.
A generation of stars, including American Auston Matthews, Canadians Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon, German Leon Draisaitl, and Swede Victor Hedman, will have to wait until 2026 to play in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament for the first time unless the Beijing Games are postponed a year like the Tokyo Games.
“It’s something you’ve been anticipating for a long time,” Hedman added. “It’s going to sting for a time that we won’t be able to travel.”
Until the delta and omicron coronavirus types began spreading throughout North America earlier this month, the NHL was all in on the Olympics. Only five games had to be rescheduled before Calgary’s outbreak in the first part of December, and one had already been made up.
The NHL did not compete in the Olympics until 1998, when it began a five-year run that ended in Sochi in 2014. In 2018, the season continued, with largely professionals playing in Europe and some collegiate players filling national squads in South Korea, where the IOC was unwilling to pay for insurance and expenses.
Because of an inflow of domestic talent playing in the Kontintental Hockey League, Russia, which won gold at the Pyeongchang Games, quickly becomes the favorite without NHL players guiding the Americans.
Several NHL players, notably Vegas goalkeeper Robin Lehner, have already expressed reservations about competing, with Lehner withdrawing his name from consideration to represent Sweden. In addition to the possibly lengthy quarantines for competitors who test positive during the competition, Lehner noted mental health concerns.
“I’m devastated, and it was a difficult decision for me to make since this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.” “What has been told about how things will be is not great for my mental health,” Lehner said in a text.
The possibility of a five-week confinement was described by McDavid as “unsettling.”
McDavid stated, “I’m still a person that wants to play in the Olympics.” “However, we also want to ensure that it is safe for everyone.” Not just for hockey players, but for all sportsmen.”
Mike Sullivan of Pittsburgh will miss his first opportunity to manage the United States national team. He had hoped to play in the NHL earlier in the day on Tuesday.
“It’s true that we’re all human beings. Emotions play a role in it. “My goal is that we all get an opportunity to compete,” said Sullivan, who worked as an assistant coach on Peter Laviolette’s Olympic coaching team in 2006. “It’s an incredible honor to represent your country at the Olympics; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” So I know I’m in the same boat as a lot of individuals who wear their country’s sweaters over their heads.”