To the surprise of absolutely no one, the NHL and NHLPA Wednesday morning confirmed the league’s players will not be participating in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
Here’s my Monday commentary acknowledging what then still was the upcoming pullout was inevitable — and why.
The official Wednesday announcement came from the NHL at 8 a.m. MST.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desires of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in the league release. “Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make the decision while exploring every available option to enable our Players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Unfortunately, given the profound disruption caused by recent COVID-related events — 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 — Olympic participation is no longer feasible. . .
“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cuo 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 to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
Also Wednesday morning, the NHLPA issued the following statement from executive director Donald Fehr:
“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.”
Fehr’s statement clearly indicated support for the decision. Yet within the ranks, there was some pushback, per this Jimmy Murphy Off The Record piece.
It’s also possible that the league has agreed to play part-villain on this to head off or counter potential criticism of the players in their home nations. There is considerable frustration over the entire situation, of course. Yet it’s almost hard to believe that NHL players would want to go to Beijing under the current or foreseeable February circumstances, even before factoring in the goal of making up postponed games.
(This story, originally posted Tuesday, has been updated to reflect Wednesday morning’s developments.)