Official: NHL opts out of Olympics, expect to return in 2026

nhl olympics
Jul 7, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; A Tampa Bay Lightning player handles a puck during warm ups before game five of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final against the Montreal Canadiens at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the league announced Wednesday.

The NHL said the decision against participating is based on the league’s regular-season schedule “having been materially disrupted as a result of increasing COVID cases and a rising number of postponed games.”

NHL makes opt-out official

“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our Players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events — 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 — Olympic participation is no longer feasible.

“We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026.”

The NHL had until Jan. 10 to opt out of Olympic participation without financial penalty.

About safety

nhl olympics
May 27, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference before game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner. Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed,” Bettman said in his statement.

Effective Wednesday, the league will be on pause through Dec. 26, with no games or practices and team facilities closed.

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said the expectation is for the league’s players to be participants in the 2026 Winter Games.

“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,” Fehr said. “Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.

“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed. But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important. We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.”

The NHL’s All-Star Game remains scheduled for Feb. 5.

–Field Level Media