NHL to withdraw from Olympics after COVID outbreak


(AP) – The NHL is not sending players to the Beijing Olympics over fears the pandemic could disrupt the league’s ability to complete a full season.

Two people with first-hand knowledge of the discussions told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the league had informed the NHL Players’ Association that it was exercising its right to withdraw from the Beijing Games due to a major disruption to the Beijing Games. the season.

People spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as no announcement had yet been made. An announcement was expected Wednesday.

The decision is a sharp turnaround in September, when the NHL, the union, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation struck a deal to put the world’s best players back on the sport’s biggest stage after skipping the Pyeongchang 2018 Games. The rapidly spreading variant of the omicron coronavirus has forced these plans to be removed.

A week ago, the NHL attempted to stop the spread of the omicron variant by reintroducing more restrictive COVID-19 protocols, which included daily testing and limiting player gatherings, especially on the road.

Then a sudden wave of postponements brought the total to 50 this season, an intimidating number to reschedule and end an 82-game season while taking an Olympic break for more than two weeks in February. The bottom line of the NHL is at stake, with the league and the players making no direct money from participating in the Winter Games.

The move comes long before the league faces a Jan. 10 deadline to step down without financial penalty. As a result, the Olympic men’s hockey tournament will continue without NHL players for the second consecutive time.

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the likely U.S. Olympics starter, on Tuesday expressed unhappiness with the decision not to go and called the wave of postponements an exaggeration.

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was already bracing for the possibility of the NHL not competing and, at the age of 34, ended what could be his last chance to represent Canada at the Olympics once again. more.

“These are opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get a lot of as an athlete, and you just might just have one,” said Crosby, who won Olympic gold. with Canada in 2010 and 2014. “It could happen to fall out the window and if it doesn’t work, it’s unfortunate.

While the NHL and NHLPA agreed to compete in the Olympics last year as part of an extension to the collective agreement, the deal to go to Beijing was conditional on no worsening of conditions. pandemic.

Unless the Beijing Games are postponed for a year like those in Tokyo, a generation of stars including American Auston Matthews, Canadians Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon, German Leon Draisaitl and Swede Victor Hedman will have to wait. 2026 to participate in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament for the first time.

“It’s something you’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,” Hedman said. “So that we can’t go, it’s going to hurt for a while.”

The NHL was all about the Olympics until the delta and omicron coronavirus variants began to spread across North America earlier this month. Prior to Calgary’s outbreak in the first half of December, only five games had to be rescheduled and one was already dialed.

The NHL did not compete in the Olympics until 1998, which began a streak of five in a row in Sochi in 2014. The season did not stop in 2018, leaving mainly professionals playing in Europe and a few university players to compose the national rosters in South Korea, where the IOC was reluctant to pay for insurance and expenses.

Russia, which won gold at the Pyeongchang Games, immediately becomes the favorite without NHL players leading the Americans thanks to an influx of local talent playing in the Kontintental Hockey League.

Several NHL players had previously expressed hesitation in participating, including Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner, who withdrew his name to not represent Sweden. Lehner cited mental health reasons noting the potentially long quarantines for athletes who test positive during competition.

“I am very disappointed and it was a difficult decision for me because it is a unique opportunity. The reality is that what has been said about how this is going to turn out is not ideal for my mental health, ”Lehner wrote in a text.

McDavid called the potential five-week quarantine requirement “disturbing.”

“I’m still a guy who wants to go play at the Olympics,” McDavid said. “But we also want to make sure it’s safe for everyone. For all athletes, not just hockey players.

Mike Sullivan of Pittsburgh will miss his first opportunity to coach the United States national team. He had remained hopeful of entering the NHL earlier Tuesday.

“We are all right-wing human beings. Emotions are part of it. I hope we all have the chance to participate, ”said Sullivan, who was Peter Laviolette’s assistant staff coach at the 2006 Olympics.“ It is an incredible honor to represent your country at the Olympics, it is is the honor of a lifetime very honestly. And so I know I don’t feel any different from a lot of people who put their country’s sweaters over their heads. “


AP Sports writer Will Graves contributed to this report.


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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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