The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association’s agreement comes after the league has been forced to postpone 50 games to date due to multiple virus outbreaks.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the new Omicron variant of the disease made up 73 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States last week, overtaking the Delta variant. This has sparked fears among health professionals that Christmas gatherings could see a surge in cases.
In Wednesday’s statement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had “waited as long as possible” to make the difficult decision and explored “every option available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.”
“Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events—50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23—Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” Bettman said.
“We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026,” Bettman said.
In September, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association reached an agreement with theInternational Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for the players to return to the Olympics for the first time since the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The league said it will now instead use the dates available during Feb. 6–22, which were previously set aside to accommodate for Olympic participation, to make up postponed games and those that need to be rescheduled. The NHL All-Star Game is still scheduled for Feb. 5.
“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6–22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
While there was no deadline for the league to withdraw from the Olympics, they would have incurred financial costs if they had done so after Jan. 10, 2022, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
“Although we are disappointed to receive this decision by the NHL and NHLPA, we nevertheless fully understand the circumstances that forced this action to be taken,” International Ice Hockey Federation President Luc Tardif said in a statement.
On Monday, the NHL and NHLPA announced that it will pause operations leaguewide, beginning Wednesday through Christmas day, due to outbreaks of COVID-19.
“With no games currently scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 22, because of COVID-related postponements, the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association have agreed to postpone the five games that remain scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 23, in order to begin the collectively-bargained Holiday Break effective with the conclusion of games tomorrow night, Dec. 21,” the league said in a statement.
Under the revised schedule, Dec. 22, Dec. 23, Dec. 24, and Dec. 25 will be days off. Players will report back to their Clubs on Dec. 26, where they will be tested for COVID-19.