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The NHL made it official today, announcing that its players would not compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics due to pandemic concerns. Although the writing has been on the wall for a while, the end of it all is a blow to players who were thrilled to compete for their country, and to fans who were eagerly awaiting to watch one of the best tournaments of all. Sport.
So where do we go from here? Let’s try to answer a few key questions following today’s announcement:
Any chance that the Beijing Olympics will be postponed for a year?
This is what happened in March 2020 at the Tokyo Summer Olympics, and many people have commented that this current wave of the pandemic is somewhat reminiscent of that time. But attitudes and approaches to COVID-19 have changed over the past two years, especially since vaccines began rolling out about a year ago. Yes, the NHL has extended its Christmas vacation in response to an increase in positive tests among its players, but the NFL and NBA have made it clear that suspending their seasons is no longer a viable option.
Whether it’s good or bad, there is a greater willingness these days to try to get this through rather than shutting it down. Neither the International Olympic Committee nor Chinese organizers have indicated that the Beijing Games will not take place in February.
Can NHL players still go to the Olympics alone?
No. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, this could have been a possibility had the NHL Players Association been the one to officially decide to step down. But it was the league that chose to exercise a clause allowing it to cancel Olympic participation if the pandemic caused a “material disruption of the calendar”. With 50 games postponed so far this season (the vast majority of them in the past 10 days) and likely more to come, it was easy for the NHL to argue that it can no longer afford. to close for two and a half years. weeks to send its best players to the other side of the world. The players signed, which makes it a joint decision.
Either way, it is highly unlikely that a player will become a thug and leave his NHL team to represent his country. There was a lot of tough talk from guys saying they would do this in 2018 when the NHL and IOC were arguing over money. Alex Ovechkin has vowed to play for Russia whether the NHL likes it or not. But everyone backed off after the league announced it would not allow players to travel to Pyeongchang.
Will there be NHL games during the Olympics?
This is the plan. Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league “will begin to use the available dates of February 6-22 … to reschedule games that have been or may still be postponed.” How many games, however, remains to be seen. Many NHL arenas are booked during this time for things like concerts and other sports. The program could therefore be lighter than usual. It is settling as we speak.
Who will play for Canada?
A contingency plan was already in place in case the NHL was released. GM Doug Armstrong and his staff will step down, leaving the job of filling the roster to Hockey Canada executive Scott Salmond and alternate GM Shane Doan, former Phoenix / Arizona Coyotes forward. Former Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien will be behind the bench.
When it comes to players, expect something similar to 2018, when Canada’s Olympic team was made up mostly of guys playing in Russia-based KHL, as well as other European leagues. Salmond said players from AHL (North America’s best minor league) and NCAA (US colleges / universities) will also be considered.
In 2018, the top scorers for the Canadian bronze medalist team were Maxim Noreau, who played in the Swiss league, and Derek Roy, who joined the Swedish league after a long career in the NHL. Canada’s top goaltender was former NHL mate Ben Scrivens.
This time around, former NHL players who are candidates to join Team Canada include forwards Eric Fehr, David Desharnais and Cory Conacher, defenseman Jason Demers and goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Learn more about who could play for Canada in this article by CBC Sports Contributor Vicki Hall.
Who is favorite to win gold now?
Online betting sites (at least the ones I use) destroyed their men’s hockey markets once it became clear that NHL players weren’t going. But last week, when it looked like the NHL could pull out and the tournament odds were still on display, Russia had bet on a slight favorite over Canada to win gold. It makes sense: The KHL is probably the best league outside of North America, and the Russians won gold in 2018 when the NHLers were out.
The tournament MVP was Ilya Kovalchuk, a 400+ goal scorer in the NHL who was still good enough to play there at the time, but chose to return home to the KHL. After the Olympics he returned to the NHL for a few years, spent last season in the KHL and currently has no team. The tournament’s two top scorers were Russia’s Nikita Gusev, who is back in the KHL after a stint in the NHL, and Kirill Kaprizov, who scored the gold medal winner in overtime against surprising Germany before moving on. in the NHL. He won Rookie of the Year with the Minnesota Wild last season.
Will NHL players ever return to the Olympics?
Looks like everyone is ready for 2026, when the Winter Games are held in northern Italy. In the NHL statement today announcing Beijing’s withdrawal, Bettman said “we look forward to participating in the Olympics in 2026”. In the NHLPA statement, union leader Don Fehr said “we expect the NHL players to return to the Olympics in 2026”. At that point, it will be 12 years since they took part in the Games. And a lot can happen over the next four years. So we’ll see.
Who is the biggest loser here?
The fans. There is nothing in the sport like the excitement and drama of an Olympic hockey tournament filled with NHL stars. Without them, the men’s event can still be entertaining (remember the gold medal game between Canada and Sweden in 1994, featuring Peter Forsberg’s iconic shootout goal?) But, to be honest , It’s not the same thing. Especially now that we’ve had a taste of the best players on the planet competing for national pride.
On the player side, you have to feel guys like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov getting ready for their first Olympics. At least they’re all on the safe side of the 30s, so they’ll probably have another shot in four years. But what about Steven Stamkos? He technically has a gold medal, as of 2014, but he didn’t play in the tournament due to injury. By the time of the next Olympic Winter Games, he will be 36 years old.
Ovechkin is in a similar boat. He has his Stanley Cup, but winning an Olympic gold for Russia could mean even more to him, and he hasn’t been able to do it. He will be 40 in 2026 – maybe still able to play, but maybe on the other side of the hill. Once again, Ovechkin is such a machine (he ranks second in the NHL for goals this season) that he could still be strong in four years. Learn more about what fans will be missing out on with NHL players outside of the Olympics in this room from Vicki Hall.
So what can an international hockey fan do?
Fortunately, we still have a few high stakes “best over best” events to come. The world junior championship kicks off Boxing Day in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., Where spectator capacity has been reduced to 50 percent, but the 10-team tournament looks set to go ahead as planned. Canada’s only exhibition game is Thursday against Russia, before it plays its first game in the tournament itself Sunday at 7 p.m. ET against the Czech Republic.
If it’s the Olympic hockey drama you’ve been dreaming of, the Women’s Tournament is always up to the job. Canada versus the United States is one of the most intense rivalries in any sport, and they will likely face off for the gold medal for the fourth consecutive time in Beijing. After the Canadians’ epic overtime victory in 2014, the Americans dethroned them in a shootout in 2018. But Canada returned the favor at this year’s world championship when Marie-Philip Poulin scored the winner by sudden death in the final in Calgary.
Poulin’s extra-time magic continued this season in the Canada-U.S. Rivalry Series, which Canada leads 4-2 after its captain claimed back-to-back overtime winners in St. Louis last week. Monday’s game in Minnesota has been postponed due to concerns over COVID-19, but the teams are expected to meet for the final two times before the Olympics on January 3-6 in Edmonton and Red Deer.