Will NHL players participate in the 2022 Olympics

With the Winter Olympics just over six months away, here is what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had to say about NHL players participating

Will NHL players participate in the 2022 Olympics

What’s Happening: Gary Bettman recently held his state of the league address and during it, he discussed the uncertainty of the NHL and its players participating in next year’s Winter Olympic games held in Beijing, China. "We have real concerns about whether or not it's sensible to have our players participating and us shutting down for an Olympic break," said Bettman, while further adding, "There are a couple remaining open issues. One has to do with the continued uncertainty of the Games, with respect to what the rules will be associated with the Games — whether there will be spectators, whether there won't be spectators. How the Tokyo Games may impact how the Beijing Games are run. There are COVID-related insurance issues that are important to the players and the clubs and the league.”

These are all real issues that the pandemic has wrought upon the world, and sports leagues are no different. With the Summer Games set to be held in Tokyo next month, it would be hard to fault the NHL to take a wait-and-see approach and come up with a firmer stance once they have been able to see how the games unfold. However, the only issue with this is that the NHL has a deadline of committing to next year’s Winter Olympics and this deadline is rapidly approaching. If the NHL wants to participate in the Winter Olympics, they must commit to it before the NHL Entry Draft (July 23) as next season’s schedule will be determined on this date. 

What does this mean for fans, the NHL, and the Olympics: Bettman’s statements expressing his concern for NHL players’ participation in next year’s Olympics should also concern hockey fans worldwide. The last Winter Olympics in 2018 was in PyeongChang and did not include NHL players and because of this, the quality of play during the tournament was significantly reduced and showed that, without NHL players playing in this tournament, the draw of this sport was also reduced.

But, Bettman’s hesitation to commit to participating in next year’s Olympics bodes well for the NHL and its regular season. If NHL players don’t end up going to the Olympics, due to uncertainty of the pandemic and the logistical challenges of having to go halfway around the world for up to a month, it likely means an uninterrupted season for the NHL. In all likelihood, this is the preferred route of the NHL because an interruption of a month is not good for business nor is it good for the league. While the Olympics is an opportunity to increase exposure to the game of hockey, it also exposes the NHL and NHL teams to having players risk injury while away, and it adds to their players’ already taxing workloads that come with a grueling 82-game season plus the playoffs. 

Bottom Line: At the present moment, the chances of NHL players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics doesn’t look good. While a lot can happen in three weeks, it seems like there are too many hurdles for the NHL to clear in order to be able to commit to sending their players away for a month and halting their season. When you factor in that there’s plenty of uncertainty around how the pandemic will look in February of next year and how players would be kept safe while overseas and away from North American health standards is another thing for the NHL and the NHLPA to consider. However, with the looming deadline to have an answer in place by the NHL Entry Draft, it seems unlikely that the NHL will be participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Not only will this bring down the prestige of the ice hockey event at the Olympics, but the fans around the world will also lose out from seeing the best players in the world compete.

Weigh In: Would you want the NHL season to be interrupted so that NHL players could play in the Olympic Games?

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