It is now official. The National Hockey League has announced this morning that NHL players will not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. This is a direct result of the league postponing 50 games already this season due to COVID-related events. This may not be a surprise to you, the fan, who is aware that the NHL has not only postponed so many games but also shut down affected teams temporarily, initially shut down travel of teams across the Canadian-American border, and even extended its holiday break such that it begins today. You would not have been a conspiracy theorist to suggest that Beijing was not going to happen for the NHL players. The rumors and sources were piling up that the NHL was not going to go. Now it is official.
As ever, there is disappointment with this news. The NHL did not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This could have been a last chance for a player to represent their country. Or their first chance. For those players who competed hard in Olympic qualification - such as Latvian, Danish, and Slovak (e.g. Marian Studenic) players - prior to the season, it makes those efforts ring hollow. The appeal of NHL participation was always to see the best players in the world in a different stage with different, tantalizing possibilities. Ovechkin vs. Crosby for international glory one more time. Connor McDavid possibly emerging as a national hero beyond being one in Edmonton. The continued ascendency of Auston Matthews in American hockey. Rivalries re-kindled outside of the IIHF youth tourneys and the annual World Championships such as Sweden-Finland or Russia against almost anyone in Europe. This will not happen in 2022.
The NHL will not likely miss this. The NHL does not get anything out of being in the Olympics. They cannot use their footage to advertise a player or a team with a player who did well. If the player gets hurt, they pick up the tab in addition to losing the player. Cynical as it seems to say it is about the money, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the networks airing the Olympics are the primary beneficiaries for NHL players participating - not the NHL or its franchises who actually pay the players. Given that this year’s Olympics had the real possibility of a 3-5 week quarantine period in China for anyone who test positive, the possibility of a player being forced to stay there and not get paid and not play for their team in what could be crucial regular season games was real and costly. It was enough for some players to question not going.
What about the union? This was something the union wanted, so where is their part of the statement? There isn’t one. When the NHL postponed three Ottawa Senators games back in November, Frank Seravalli (among others) noted that postponement triggered a clause in the agreement that would have allowed Olympic participation that gave the NHL the right to opt out of the Olympics in order to have an 82-game regular season. With the number of postponed games growing up to 50 over the past few days, it became untenable for the league to take off for most of February and make up these games. Therefore, the NHL made this announcement; and that announcement does state that the period of February 6 to 22 will be used for rescheduling games based on arena and team availability.
What about the Olympic event? It will likely happen anyway. Expect national federations to bring players from other leagues and avenues willing to participate, pending pandemic-based situations in their respective countries. It is what happened in 2018. Hockey and life went on.
Personally, I do not mind. The Olympics are not a needle mover for me and I say this as I am nearly done writing Too Many Words about the 2022 WJCs. I could not tell you a thing about the 2014 Winter Olympics, the last time the NHL participated in the tournament, other than being salty at USA Hockey’s choices on defense - which ignored Andy Greene among others. I could tell you even less about the 2018 Olympics. It is not like hockey has not grown without the Olympic participation given that the league has since expanded twice, all non-Arizona teams have become stable in their homes, college hockey in America continues to grow, youth international teams for “power countries” have such wealth of talent that we can argue about players not in the WJCs or World U-18s, and the NHL’s own revenue has been trending upward before a global pandemic undercut everyone. I am not wholly convinced of arguments of “it will grow the game,” when the game appears to be growing anyway. 2010 was over a decade ago too; it is not like the upcoming generation of prospects even saw or remember that tourney. The ones after them will just read about it or watch a video essay documenting it online.
I am certainly not unhappy that the NHL will not be participating in the Winter Olympics in Beijing simply because of the harsh reality of the Chinese Communist Party. I have intentionally avoided bringing this up in the past because I know it almost never goes well to bring this kind of thing up. However, I think you, the People Who Matter, all expect me to keep it 100. And I do. So I will. Feel free to skip the next three paragraphs if you do not want me to keep it real. Just know that this is my take and not the take of anyone else on this site.
I am not at all disappointed that the NHL will not be party and parcel to a totalitarian regime that will try to use these Olympics not unlike how they were used in 1980 and 1936. It is a country that exercises mass censorship to a point where otherwise “socially aware” companies and groups (e.g. the NBA) bend the knee. Their use of a social credit system is straight out of a sci-fi dystopian novel or movie, only the reader/viewer misunderstood that it was a bad thing to have in the world. They literally have concentration camps. Who wants to be connected to this? What more does one need to see to know that supporting this regime is simply wrong? Does one need to be perfect to state that this is wrong? To lightly paraphrase ex-soccer player and current ESPN talking head Taylor Twellman, what are we doing here?
Going back to sports, consider the on-going story of tennis star Peng Shuai. Shuai accused a party official, Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The post was censored within an hour, she went missing not coincidentally after that story went global, and now media companies are going along with the re-framing of her story about her “previous misunderstanding” as she showed up, clearly not speaking of her own free will. And the IOC - who runs the Olympics - are fine with this. At least the World Tennis Association has more guts than the IOC (and the NBA and Disney and...) and are not saying that all is good. This is what the CCP does to one athlete that dares make an official look double-plus un-good. And this is what we know; imagine what is done in relative quiet? Imagine if it is an athlete at the Olympics trying to speak up. So, no, I will not miss the NHL participating at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The medal dreams of NHL players do not overcome the real-life nightmare that is the CCP. But that is simply my opinion. Again, I am keeping it real.
In any case, going back to hockey and the team that this site is about, I would imagine we shall see the Devils’ games against Pittsburgh and Montreal made up in this new window in February. It is not a totally open month per The Rock’s event calendar, but there are many dates in between them that making up one home game without anything else being moved is possible. Provided that the Canadiens are available, of course. I hope there are no further postponements. All plans as of now are that the Devils and the league will resume play on December 27. Hopefully, that happens and the outbreak of players and personnel on COVID-19 protocol is reduced by then.
P.S. If you’re going to the Rock for a game or a concert or any kind of event, masks are now required for all guests. This is due to an edict from the City of Newark. You can only take them off when eating or drinking. Given that most fans have a drink or food in their hand, I am going to guess that this will not be particularly effective. But it is the Prudential Center’s policy, it is complying with Newark’s edict, so it is what it is. Bring a mask. I will.