World's Top Hockey Players Could be Forced to Miss 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The Stanley Cup Finals got underway Monday night in Florida, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made a startling announcement regarding the league taking an Olympic break next February. Bettman said a break likely won't happen.

There's a strong possibility that NHL players won't get their typical break during the league's 2021-22 season in order to play for their home countries at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It's not because of a potential boycott for the human rights issues in western China that also involves Tibetans and those from Hong Kong. It stems back to COVID. Not because China is where the coronavirus originated, but that Bettman says the virus still might not be under control.

Bettman used his state of the league address before Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning to answer the question of whether there will be an Olympic break in 2022.

"We don't know as of right now, and that's causing us a fair number of issues relative to getting next season up and running," Bettman said. "We have real concerns about whether or not its sensible to have our players participating and us shutting down for an Olympic break."

Olympic Ice Hockey
Scott Young #48 and Tom Poti #5 of the USA receive their silver medals following the men's ice hockey gold medal game against Canada at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Canada defeated the USA, 5-2. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the Beijing Olympics aren't "an ideal Games to go to."

"With the continued uncertainty with the virus, with the Games being halfway around the world, it's not necessarily an ideal Games to go to," Daly said.

The NHL had no break in its schedule for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, but it reached a deal with the players association to have the break for the 2022 and 2026 Olympic quads as part of a multi-year collective bargaining agreement.

"We negotiated in good faith with the Players' Association last summer," Daly said. "We agreed that if the conditions were right and we could reach an agreement on all the material issues that we would commit and support going to the Olympics. That remains our position."

COVID-19 was reportedly originated from a lab in the Wuhan province of China. The virus eventually led to the shutdowns, or postponements, of sports around the globe in 2020. That included the NHL, which suspended its season before reconvening entirely in Canada last summer.

The NHL has been played through an entire season and first three rounds of the playoffs this season before the puck dropped in Game 1 Monday night in Tampa. Daly said there are certain issues to factor before drawing up next season's NHL schedule, and one of them is to see how Tokyo handles next month's Summer Olympics that were delayed a year because of COVID.

"There are a couple remaining open issues. One has to do with the continued uncertainty of the Games, with respect to what the rules will be associated with the Games—whether there will be spectators, whether there won't be spectators," Daly said. "How the Tokyo Games may impact how the Beijing Games are run. There are COVID-related insurance issues that are important to the players and the clubs and the league."

Bettman said that implementing the Olympic Break in the quadrennial Olympic schedule may have already skated past the point of no return.

"It's reaching the point that we're getting concerned about the impact on next season because of the uncertainty," Bettman said. "We were already past the time where we hoped that it would be resolved."

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 4-20.