Why NHL Athletes Are Barred From the Olympics

Zeno Minotti, Sports Editor

With the 2022 Winter Olympics coming this February, National Hockey League (NHL) fans and players alike were looking forward to the world’s best players returning to the world’s greatest stage. That is, until December 21, when the NHL and NHL Players Association decided the league’s players would not be allowed to play in the Olympics.

The debate of NHL players in the Olympics has long been filled with controversy. In fact, it has only worked out four times in history, and not since 2014. Most recently, NHL players did not participate in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea because the NHL and International Olympic Committee could not agree over who would cover basic costs such as travel, insurance, and accommodations for the players.

The decision to prohibit NHL players from playing in the 2022 games did not come as a great surprise considering omicron cases rising nationally, internationally, and in the NHL. Cases have shot up in the NHL over recent weeks, which resulted in a ban of play altogether for a week in late December. On December 21st, 18% of NHL players were under quarantine due to either testing positive or being in close contact with someone who tested positive. Still, the situation is much more complicated.

Numerous games have been postponed, which is the true reason for NHL players not playing in the Olympics.

Numerous games have been postponed, which is the true reason for NHL players not playing in the Olympics, according to NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr. Fehr told Sports Illustrated, “No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.”

Still, it seems like a strange explanation for a league that was willing to cut their schedule to 56 games in 2020-21, and roughly 70 games in 2019-20 (both down from the regular 82 game season). Allowing their players to play in the Olympics would likely mean missing just around five games per team.

Boston Bruins star Brad Marchand had another explanation. In a Tweet Marchand wrote, “The NHL and [National Hockey League Players’ Association] NHLPA can change the rules of the CBA [collective bargaining agreement] to add a taxi squad so that they don’t miss any games and don’t lose any money … yet they can’t do a taxi squad during the Olympics so that they can honor the agreement they made so the NHL players can go [to the Olympics].”

The NHL makes no money from the Olympics, while also facing the risk of having some of their best players injured. COVID-19 may have simply been a front for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who has already long petitioned to have hockey moved to the Summer Olympic games so as not to conflict with his league.

The decision is certainly an important one for fans. The 2018 Olympic hockey tournament, in which NHL players did not participate, went largely unwatched and unfollowed. Its participants were non-professional players and those who play in leagues other than the NHL, which will be the case in 2022 as well. Overall, it has been a rough month for players and fans alike who enjoy the thrills of hockey on the international stage.