NHL players will participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, per an agreement reached by the league, the NHL Players’ Assn. and the International Ice Hockey Federation, but the accord includes a clause that would allow the league and the players’ union to withdraw from the Games “in the event evolving Covid conditions are deemed by the NHL/NHLPA to render participation by NHL Players to be impractical or unsafe.”
The NHL put its season on hold to permit players to represent their homelands in the Winter Olympics of 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014. Disagreements over issues such as insurance costs, the NHL’s lack of access to players for promotional purposes and the league’s inability to directly profit off players’ participation led Commissioner Gary Bettman to keep players out of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In addition, the time difference between North America and South Korea would have limited the opportunity to televise games in prime time in the U.S. and Canada and give the hockey tournament maximum exposure.
The U.S. roster at Pyeongchang was comprised of players from European professional leagues and a few college kids. The Americans were eliminated in the quarterfinals by the Czech Republic. The gold medal was won by the team known as Olympic Athletes from Russia.
NHL players have been in favor of participating in the Olympics, viewing the Games as a valuable chance to expand their international fanbase, TV audience, and revenues. However, the NHL had been reluctant to commit to disrupting its season for an event from which it gains no direct financial boost.
The agreement was first announced by the IIHF via its social media account.
“I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said in a news release.
“We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set our for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement, “We understand how passionately NHL Players feel about representing and competing for their countries. We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage.”
None of the statements provided details on the conditions that would allow the league and players’ union to back out of Olympic participation.
The Beijing men’s hockey tournament will include 12 teams divided into three groups. Canada, the Russian Olympic Committee, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, U.S., Germany, Switzerland and host China were designated seeded teams. Slovakia, Latvia and Denmark won berths in a qualifying tournament last weekend.
The Olympic men’s hockey schedule hasn’t yet been released.