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NHL players won’t go to the Beijing Olympics after coronavirus spike disrupts schedule

The National Hockey League will withdraw from the 2022 Winter Games after its regular season schedule was disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks. (Video: Reuters)
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NHL players will not participate in the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation. An official announcement of the decision is expected in the coming days.

The decision to keep players out of the Games, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 4, follows a spike in coronavirus cases among players and the rise of the omicron variant. On Monday night, with roughly 15 percent of its players in the covid-19 protocols, the league announced it was halting its season from Wednesday through Sunday. Fifty regular season games had been postponed as of Tuesday, leading to doubt about whether there would be sufficient time to reschedule them if the league took its planned break to allow players to participate in the Olympics.

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee declined to comment because the decision had not been officially announced. International Olympic Committee officials also declined to comment. USA Hockey did not respond to requests for comment.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association negotiated Olympic participation in their most recent collective bargaining agreement, but the league said at the time that it could withdraw if the regular season schedule was “materially impacted” by coronavirus-related postponements. The NHL has until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Olympics without financial penalty.

On Sunday, the league scrapped travel between the United States and Canada through its holiday break because of coronavirus concerns. That led to the postponement of 12 games. More postponements followed Monday afternoon, and the planned stoppage moved five more games.

Ten teams had been shut down before the league announced its stoppage Monday: the Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins. The Calgary Flames on Monday reopened their facility to members of the organization not in the protocols.

In early December, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it would be up to the players to decide whether they wanted to participate in the Olympics. Bettman said the league wanted to act in “good faith” and let the players make the call.

But the rapid spread of the omicron variant has caused major disruptions throughout professional sports, and the situation spiraled quickly in the NHL.

The decision raises many questions that will need to be addressed over the coming days and weeks.

With the Olympic break no longer needed, the league must figure out how to reschedule games that have been postponed. Many NHL arenas have been booked for other events in February, which could present difficulties.

Meanwhile, national hockey federations have to determine their Olympic rosters without the mainstays they had been expecting.

And NHL veterans who might have been viewing the Beijing Games as their last shot at participating in the Olympics must cope with the disappointment of another opportunity missed.

NHL players last participated in the Olympics during the 2014 Sochi Games, where Canada won the gold medal. NHL players were not allowed to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Many players were upset with that decision — notably Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, who released a lengthy statement expressing his disappointment.

During the U.S. Olympic media summit in October, T.J. Oshie, Ovechkin’s teammate on the Capitals, said he was looking forward to the Beijing Games.

“Gosh, it would be a dream come true, especially not having the opportunity to go four years ago,” Oshie said then. “It would just mean that much more, especially for myself and where I’m at in my career. It would just be an absolute honor to throw the USA sweater on again.”

This time, players expressed concerns about going to the Olympics because of the lengthy isolation period mandated by the Chinese government after a positive test. There were reports that the IOC told the NHL that any athlete with a confirmed positive test at the Olympics must produce two negative tests 24 hours apart to be released. If that doesn’t happen, the isolation period in Beijing could last from three to five weeks.

Oilers star Connor McDavid recently told reporters that the isolation period was “unsettling.”

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner, a Swede, announced this month that he would be not be participating.

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