After reaching an agreement with international officials, the NHL will return to the Beijing Olympics this winter, but if the pandemic conditions permit, the league and players have a chance to withdraw.
The NHL, its players union, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation reached an agreement on Friday to allow the world’s best players to return to the biggest stage in the sports world in February after skipping the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
“It’s not easy, but we did it,” Rene Fasell, the president of the International Ice Federation, told the Associated Press by phone. “I’m really, really happy. When you see that the last time is 2014, they will wait until 2026, so you have 12 years-which means we have a generation of hockey players who cannot participate in the Olympics.”
Even after the NHL and the players agreed to participate in the Olympics as part of the long-term extension of the collective bargaining agreement last summer, the coronavirus pandemic and related costs may put this possibility on hold. Instead, the two sides figured out a way to allow the league or players to withdraw when the virus situation worsens or this season breaks out.
As long as this does not happen, NHL players will participate in the Olympic Men’s Hockey Championship for the sixth time out of seven opportunities since 1998.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said: “We understand the passion of NHL players for representing and competing for the country.” “We are very pleased that we have reached an arrangement to allow them to recover in the best condition on the Olympic stage.”
COVID-19 insurance is not part of the agreement, but Fasel confirmed that IIHF will provide $5 million in salary lost due to the disease. It is expected that vaccination will be required, and the player’s contract will also be insured due to injury.
American coach Mike Sullivan called his return to the Olympics “an exciting time for hockey.”
He is not alone in thinking this way.
Defending NHL MVP Connor McDavid played for a “North American team” under the age of 23 at the 2016 Hockey World Cup and has yet to represent Canada in the world’s best men’s hockey player.
“Being able to represent Canada in the Olympics and competing for the gold medal is definitely a dream come true,” McDavid told the Associated Press this week. “It has been a long time since we were able to play the best internationally. I think for me, I think for a lot of people in that team, it’s been a long time. If we are all lucky enough, we are obviously looking forward to participating in the Olympics.”
For McDavid, American star Alston Matthews, 2020 playoff MVP and two-time Stanley Cup champion Victor Hedman, this may be the first Olympic Games. They had no chance three years ago. At that time, the national team was mainly composed of college and European professional players. Except for the Olympic athletes from Russia, they won the gold medal in Pyeongchang.
“The Olympics is one of my biggest dreams, and I didn’t make it-this may be the last chance I got,” said Hedman, who was excluded from Sweden’s 2014 Olympics list. “When you have the opportunity to represent your country on the biggest stage, this is one of the things you may never forget. So yes, for me, this is obviously something that I have been dreaming of all my life, too What I want to do before hanging up my skates.”
Taking into account the opening of the Olympic Games on February 9, the NHL has arranged a three-week break. The league will still hold the All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, and the players will fly to China in February. 6.
“It creates a level playing field,” said Hall of Fame guard Chris Plange, who made his Olympic debut in 1998 and won the gold medal with Canada in 2010. “It allows more countries to compete at a higher level. It demonstrates the sport.”
NHL players at the Olympics have become commonplace, the International Olympic Committee has agreed to pay for travel and insurance, and the owners are willing to suspend the season to allow players to participate in the competition. An entire generation of players knows that the Olympics is the showcase for NHL stars.
“You have a dream to represent your country,” said US Secretary of Defense Ryan MacDonald of the Lightning. “The Olympics are such a unique experience, I think they have created miracles for hockey.”
The International Olympic Committee under President Thomas Bach will not pay various fees in 2018, which has caused the NHL to abandon Olympic and league officials’ concerns about interrupting the season. Fasel said officials completed the 2014 agreement and then adjusted due to the pandemic.
The players finally decided that it was worthwhile to deal with any virus restrictions in Beijing, which may exceed the isolation bubble in the 2020 playoffs.
“I don’t think there will be anything we have never seen before,” Canadian coach Jon Cooper said. “I do feel relieved that we have gone through all these different situations.”
Note: If the NHL chooses to withdraw due to COVID-19, Fassel said that the Olympics will continue and the participating countries will send a team of non-NHL players. As the tournament interferes with the Canadian junior high school and American college seasons, this situation may affect the United States and Canada because of the limited number of players available for the draw. …With the deal in place, the US ice hockey team filled Sullivan’s assistant coaching staff, including Nashville Predators coach John Hines, former New York Rangers coach David Quinn, and Penguin assistants Todd Rayden and former NHL goalkeeper Ryan Miller, the latter after ending his 18-year career last season.