Participating in the Olympic Games is considered the world’s most elite achievement for athletes around the world.
The best of the best are not always able to compete, however, especially when they play sports with seasons that would be interrupted by the games.
Ice hockey is one of those sports, and the National Hockey League (NHL) has not sent any players to participate since 2014 due to the disruption to the hockey season.
While it briefly appeared as though 2022 would mark the NHL’s return to the Olympics, recent events have caused second thoughts.
NHL and the IIHF come to an agreement
In September 2021, the NHL announced that it had come to an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to allow the league’s players to compete in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
The agreement was reached after negotiations, during which the NHL gave up some fair use rights of the team.
The bulk of the discussion, however, was centered on COVID-19 and the risks that such a large sporting event would have to player health.
The agreement meant that the NHL would disrupt its normal season for the Olympic Games as long as it remained safe to do so, with the IIHF agreeing to a $5m fund to help compensate players who might miss regular-season games as the result of contracting COVID-19.
Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, was confident that the league was on track to participate in Beijing, stating in September 2021 that he expected that 95% of their players would be fully vaccinated.
“I think we’re in as good a spot as we can be, and hopefully it improves as we move on.”
Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans can fall apart.
The NHL withdraws from the 2022 Olympic Games
Just a few months after the agreement was penned, the NHL and IIHF announced the decision from the NHL to pull the players from the games.
This decision was based on a few different factors, not the least of which was the disruption in the league’s regular season due to COVID-19 complications.
The NHL said that completing the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well as the NHL regular season in a timely manner was its primary goal.
With 50 games postponed, the league had no choice but to utilize the dates that the players would otherwise spend competing to reschedule matches.
While there are reports that NHL players are disappointed with the decision to withdraw, they also understand the need for the change.
Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawk center, commented on the matter, saying that while attending the Olympic Games would be exciting, the schedule for the rest of the year would suffer as a result.