The NHL is returning to the Olympics.
The League and the NHL Players’ Association announced Friday they have reached an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation to confirm a break in the 2021-22 NHL regular-season schedule to accommodate the participation of NHL players in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
It will be the first Olympics for NHL players since 2014 in Sochi and the first best-on-best international tournament since the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in Toronto.
“We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. “We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best-on-best competition on the Olympic stage.”
The agreement allows for the possibility of a later decision to withdraw in the event evolving COVID-19 conditions are deemed by the NHL and NHLPA to render participation by NHL players to be impractical or unsafe.
“Representing their country in the Olympics is important to the players, even in these uncertain times,” NHLPA general counsel Don Zavelo said. “The players look forward to pulling on their nation’s hockey sweater at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as they compete for the gold medal.”
The 2021-22 NHL season will break from Feb. 3-22 for the 2022 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the Olympic men’s hockey tournament, which culminates with the gold medal game Feb. 20.
“I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics,” IIHF president Rene Fasel said. “We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment.”
NHL players participated in five Olympics from 1998-2014 but did not go to PyeongChang in 2018. The League position has been that competing in the Olympics disrupts the NHL season, particularly when not held in North America.
But last year, when the NHL and the NHLPA extended the collective bargaining agreement through the 2025-26 season, they agreed to go to the Olympics if they could reach an agreement with the IIHF.
“You know what the League’s traditional and historical position has been on the Olympics,” Daly said June 28. “We remain of that view, and in fact, with the future Games in Beijing and the continued uncertainty with [COVID-19] and the Games being halfway around the world, (this is) not necessarily an ideal Games to elect to go to.
“Having said that, we negotiated in good faith with the Players’ Association last summer. We agreed that if the conditions were right and we could reach agreement on all the material issues that we would commit and support going to the Olympics.”
The Czech Republic won gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first to feature NHL players.
Canada has dominated best-on-best competition since, winning five of the past six tournaments: the World Cup in 2004 and 2016, and the Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002, Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014. It has won 16 consecutive best-on-best games.
Sweden won gold at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
The United States won silver at Salt Lake City and Vancouver.
Some of the world’s top NHL players could make their Olympic debuts in Beijing, including Connor McDavid (Canada), David Pastrnak (Czech Republic), Sebastian Aho (Finland), Nikita Kucherov (Russian Olympic Committee), Victor Hedman (Sweden), Leon Draisaitl (Germany), and Auston Matthews (United States).
The tournament will include 12 countries seeded into three groups. Joining the top eight nations that were seeded into the tournament according to the 2019 IIHF World Ranking — Canada, Russian Olympic Committee, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, United States, Germany and Switzerland — will be tournament host China as well as the recently qualified teams from Slovakia, Latvia and Denmark, who earned the final seeds last weekend in the final men’s Olympic qualification tournaments.