The dream of seeing the best hockey players on the planet play with and against each other is dead once again.
After NHL insider Chris Johnston reported on Tuesday that the league and players officially agreed to withdraw from the 2022 Beijing Olympics — confirming what ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and others reported the previous two days — the news became officially official on Wednesday.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 22, 2021
The NHL and NHLPA had until Jan. 10 to opt out without facing any kind of financial penalty.
Multiple factors have gone into this. Initially, the players were cautious about potentially contracting COVID while in Beijing and then being subject to a quarantine that could last over a month, if officials deemed them still a risk to public health. Substantial names like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews — two of the best in the sport who have not yet played in an Olympic Games — were upfront about their concern.
"I'd love to go and I'd love to compete," Matthews said. "But there's definitely some things that a lot of us would like to see worked out."
"It's unsettling if that were to be the case," McDavid said about the potential lengthy quarantine.
Aside from the risk of missing a long streak of games back home and the paychecks that go along with it, there is also the fact that the NHL announced on Monday a planned pause for an extended holiday break to try and curb its recent COVID surge.
#NHL Covid-19 (as of Dec. 21, 1pm ET)
131 players reported in active protocol (18% of rosters)
⬆️ 12 players over 24 hrs, incl. 7 players cleared
24 teams w/ at least 1 player in protocol
50 games postponed (45 in last 8 days)
1 game scheduled until Dec. 27 (TBL/VGK in jeopardy)
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) December 21, 2021
Instead of trying to stretch the season into the summer, and shortening the following off-season, the most likely scenario would be to use the original three-week break set for the Olympics to make up some ground and get these games played.
NHL players haven't suited up on the Olympic stage since 2014 in Sochi after the league pulled out of the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang over various financial and operational concerns. Many current stars in the league were not even drafted by then, or were slowly making their way onto NHL rosters. The last time we saw some semblance of a best-on-best tournament was at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Hopefully we’ll get to see the then-grizzled veterans represent their respective countries in 2026 — pandemic pending, of course.
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