It seemed inevitable a week ago, as the Omicron variant began its rampage through the schedule, and was leaked yesterday, but now it’s official-official: The NHL will not send its players to the Beijing Olympics.
This stinks! It stinks. That it’s the obvious call doesn’t make it stink less. We haven’t gotten NHL players in the Olympics since 2014, and haven’t had a best-on-best tourney since the 2016 World Cup. How else am I supposed to channel my latent jingoism? I swear to god that if we have to wait until 2026 for a true international tourney featuring the pros, we may have to go to war with Canada in the interim. Just to keep busy.
The NHL has never been fond of the idea of sending players to the Olympics, mainly because the owners don’t make any money off of it. The players love going, and their right to do so was negotiated with the IIHF, but with outs—and COVID-19 gave the league its out. With 50 games canceled and counting, the schedule has been “materially impacted” and thus the league was allowed to put its foot down. The February break carved out for the Games will now be used to make up those postponed games. (Additionally, China’s aggressive COVID-19 policies mean that any player who tested positive while in Beijing could have faced quarantine of more than a month before being allowed to return.)
So instead the men’s Olympic rosters will be made up of amateurs and minor leaguers and pros in overseas leagues. Meaning Russia’s going to win again, so who cares.
If there’s a bright side here, it’s that perhaps the NHL will be more aggressive about postponing games, knowing there’s now space to make them up, and not forcing teams to play with inferior or shorthanded lineups. But that’s not much consolation to the players who were looking forward to playing in the Olympics—for many of them, likely their final opportunity.
You’ve gotta feel for guys like Stamkos, even given the fact that Team USA would 100 percent have won gold and we all know it.