The National Hockey League and the NHL Players’ Association have agreed not to participate in the coming Beijing Games, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
The decision was made because 50 games have already been postponed and the NHL is concerned that the disruption will make it difficult for all 82 regular-season games to be played, the source said. The Globe and Mail is keeping the source confidential because the decision has yet to be announced.
The league hopes to reschedule the games over what would have been the three-week Olympic break, according to the source. It has requested information from each team about arena availability. The desire is also to allow each team to have a break but not at the same time.
It is expected that a joint announcement by the league and its players’ union will soon be made once the International Olympic Committee has been properly notified.
NHL players skipped the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but were to compete in the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026 as part of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the league and the NHLPA during the summer of 2020.
The agreement contained an opt-out clause, however, that said either party could change its mind if COVID-19 conditions worsened or if the schedule was disrupted owing to cancellations of games. As of Tuesday, 131 players were in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
“I haven’t heard officially yet, so I haven’t thought about my reaction,” Connor Hellebuyck, who was likely to be the starting goalie for the United States, said during a virtual news conference on Tuesday from Winnipeg. “If the next one is in four years I will be 32 and I know I will be playing my best hockey. But let’s see if it’s the same story.
“It was going to be an awesome opportunity, but I guess this is just what we have to deal with.”
NHL players had competed in five straight Olympics before Pyeongchang. The 2026 Games are scheduled for Feb. 6-22 in the Italian cities of Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.
When the decision is officially made it will be a blow to some of the sport’s biggest young stars. Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were among the players looking forward to their first Olympics.
McDavid, the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Vegas Golden Knights captain Alex Pietrangelo had already been named to the Canadian men’s team. Crosby expressed disappointment this week at the likelihood that the players would not be able to go. McDavid and Pietrangelo had previously stated concerns over some of the protocols that are in place for Beijing.
The International Olympic Committee has said that an athlete that tests positive for COVID could be placed in quarantine for 21 to 35 days.
Along with being difficult mentally, it would also cut into players’ ability to return to the regular season in a timely manner.
“The three-to-five-week thing has been floating around and it is obviously unsettling if that were the case,” McDavid said last week. “I still want to play in the Olympics, but we want to make sure it is safe for everybody, not just hockey players.”
McDavid caught COVID-19 during the off-season. The new Omicron variant has begun to reinfect people that previously had the novel coronavirus. It was believed that those who had recovered from COVID were largely immune to becoming sick again.
Pietrangelo was a member of the Canadian team that won the gold medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He was worried about the possibility of being away from his family for an extended period if he got sick in China.
“I’ve got four kids that are under the age of three and a half,” Pietrangelo said recently. “For me to be potentially locked up there for five weeks plus the Olympics, that’s a long time being away.”
Matthews, the star centre for Toronto, was expected to play a major role on the U.S. team.
“I’d love to go,” he said last week. “But there are definitely things that a lot of us would like to see worked out.”
Kyle Dubas, the Maple Leafs general manager, said over the weekend that he understands how disappointed the players would be if they are not allowed to participate in Beijing.
“Those athletes have worked their entire life to be in consideration to go to the Olympics,” Dubas said. “It is a great event and something they aspire to. I don’t really think it is our place to step in and have a strong opinion. Either way it would be a disservice.”