With the delayed 2020 Summer Olympics just around the corner, uncertainty still surrounds the NHL’s participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun provided some additional insight on the matter today, noting that a resolution between all parties involved will have to be done by July 23rd, the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. If not, it’s a foregone conclusion that the NHL won’t allow its players to participate in the Olympics for the second straight occurrence.
There are many conflicting factors that will determine if a resolution can be achieved. What’s paramount is that the NHL’s 32 teams will likely have to go without players selected to their Olympic teams while they’re at the tournament. In the past, the league had substituted the All-Star Weekend for an Olympic break. That isn’t a real possibility now. The 2021-22 season is starting a tad late as it is (October 12th), and the All-Star Weekend will be a big revenue draw for the league as it begins to emerge out of the COVID era. For that reason, one would assume that the league would learn towards retaining its talent and keeping everybody home.
But the fact can’t be lost that the NHL has spent a significant amount of money, effort, and time marketing the game in China over the past few seasons. With multiple pre-season exhibition games being held in the country, the league was clearly attempting to grow the sport in the country ahead of the 2022 Olympics. It’s not a very appealing prospect for the league to have it all be for not.
The other important factor will be the voice of the players. Aging stars like Zdeno Chara, Alex Ovechkin, or even players like Carey Price may not have another chance to represent their country on the Olympic stage if they’re not permitted to attend again until 2026. The NHL will surely face increased resistance from the NHLPA this time around if they attempt to bar players from the 2022 Olympics.
Regardless, there will be a decision within the next two weeks.