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NHL Players Can Participate at 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

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This morning, the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF announced that NHL players can participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. This post reacts to the news, the memo sent to the players, a summary of the qualifying games, and includes an early preview of the event.

The Emblem Of Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games In Beijing
The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing will include NHL players.
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

This morning, the National Hockey League, the NHL Players Association, and the International Ice Hockey Federation came to an agreement regarding the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. NHL players are allowed to participate in next year’s Olympic games. After skipping 2018 in Pyongchang, the NHL is set to be involved in their sixth Olympics since NHL players first played in 1998’s Games in Nagano. The announcements from both the IIHF and the NHL make it official.

What is more interesting is this tweet by John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor, who posted an email sent out by the NHLPA leadership to players and agents a little bit before the announcements were made this morning. This email details the parameters regarding the NHL’s participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics. Here are the main takeaways from it:

  • National teams must submit a “long list” of players by October 15 and then decide their playing roster by January 2022.
  • Players can opt out of the Olympics for any reason.
  • The NHL and NHLPA can decide to not participate in the Olympics should the health and/or safety situations worsen.
  • The NHL can also decide to not participate in the Olympics if regular season games are cancelled due to COVID-19 and cannot be re-scheduled within the current schedule.
  • All players must have their contracts insured; there will be no insurance for COVID-related insurance. The IOC and IIHF refused to pay for such insurance. The IIHF will have a $5 million fund to cover lost salaries due to COVID if the affected players contracted the virus and followed all protocols.
  • It is expected that the Chinese government and the IOC will require vaccinations, enforce a bubble for the games, and tight restrictions on player movement within said bubble. Those protocols are not yet set.
  • Players will be subject to WADA testing starting on October 15.
  • All games are on NHL sized rinks and will be refereed by NHL officials.

The WADA testing is in line with when each nation must submit their pool of players so they can ensure that when rosters are decided, they are compliant to WADA regulations. Expect the long list to be, well, long and filled with players who have no right being considered to play for a national team. However, that is the point of it so a country is not caught literally shorthanded when it comes time to name a roster. The point about no insurance for COVID-related illnesses seems jarring but this was the case for recent Olympic qualifying games and NHL players participated in that. I do not think that would be game-changer.

How the virus mutates and how it is handled could very well be. Should there be a return to lockdowns in Canada or the United States or games get cancelled for other reason, the NHL understandably has to put themselves first instead of just not playing the games. For the league, the goal is to play a full season in 2021-22. If the Olympics have to be sacrificed to do so, then so be it. The IOC is not going to fill in their lost revenue. The big elephant in the room is China. The Chinese Communist Party is not above misdirection or covering things up with their own country’s history, much less with how they have been handling the virus. If there is a hint that the situation is more dire than it looks, then that could make a lot of athletes from all over second-guess their involvement - not just the NHL. I find it interesting that the NHLPA’s memo states that players can opt out for any reason and with no consequence. I think this may give a player an out if they do not feel comfortable going to Beijing or they feel playing there may risk getting sick and that impacting their NHL role.

That all stated, I think many players do want to represent their national team if they are selected. The NHLPA and NHL agreed to participation in their Contract Bargaining Agreement pending an agreement with the IIHF. If I recall correctly, the union pushed for that. Plus, there were NHL players at the recent Olympic qualifying games. In fact, let me digress from the news and quickly go over that.

A Brief Summary of the 2022 Olympic Qualifying Games

The 2022 Winter Olympics for men’s ice hockey features twelve nations. China is the host country, so they are in it. The top eight nations according to the IIHF rankings after the 2019 IIHF World Championships automatically qualified. Those eight were (in no particular order): United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia (a.k.a. ROC), Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Germany. The final three spots were to be set by a series of qualification tournaments. It was supposed to be done in August 2020 but COVID-19 pushed that back a year. Qualification concluded this past Sunday with a group of four competing in three games against each other. The group winners would go to Beijing.

In Group E, Riga in Latvia hosted France, Hungary, and Italy. Hungary busted out a win over Italy, but France and the hosts stomped both teams. The final game would decide who would go to the Olympics. Latvia last appeared in the Olympics in 2014 and surprisingly made it to the Quarterfinals. France last appeared in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. In a tight game featuring a late power play for France, Miks Indrasis’ third period goal held up as the game winner for Latvia in a 2-1 victory. Latvia is going to Beijing in 2022.

In Group F, Oslo in Norway hosted Slovenia, South Korea, and Denmark. The Danes have been members of the IIHF since 1949. They have never made it to the Olympics. They made it happen. They survived a Slovenian come back in their first game to win 4-3, they crushed South Korea 11-1, and they shut out Norway 2-0. Denmark’s team featured Nikolaj Ehlers, Alexander True, Frans Nielsen, and Devils-killer Oliver Bjorkstrand. As a hockey nation, Denmark has produced some NHL players as of late. Qualifying for the Olympics is a huge achievement that goes in line with that growth of talent. Denmark is going to Beijing in 2022.

In Group D, Bratislava in Slovakia hosted Belarus, Austria, and Poland. Unlike the other two groups, this one featured some New Jersey Devils players. Yegor Sharangovich was the captain of the Belarussian team. Marian Studenic and Christian Jaros represented Slovakia. On paper, the group would come down to those two teams. On the ice, this almost did not happen when Poland upset Belarus on the first day. But Belarus took care of business, Austria took care of Poland, and so when Slovakia and Belarus played on the final day, a regulation win would send Belarus to the Olympics. In a nasty game (Jaros received 22 PIM, Sergei Sapego of Belarus received 25), Slovakia prevailed 2-1 with the rare game-winning empty-net goal by Libor Hudacek. Again, Belarus needed a regulation win so going to overtime was not an option. Sharangovich did score in this one (and two against Austria), but it is Slovakia that is going to Beijing in 2022.

Potential Devils to Beijing

Now that qualifying is over and we know the NHL will participate in the Winter Olympics, here is an updated look at who from the New Jersey Devils is likely to go (assuming they do not opt out) from when I last thought about it

  • Switzerland: Nico Hischier, Jonas Siegenthaler
  • Slovakia: Tomas Tatar, Marian Studenic, Christian Jaros
  • Czech Republic: Pavel Zacha (maybe)
  • Canada: Dougie Hamilton (maybe)

I think they could be on their team’s “long list” in October but they are really long shots to make it: Jack Hughes (USA), Mackenzie Blackwood (Canada), Janne Kuokkanen (Finland).

An Early Preview of the 2022 Winter Olympics

I also have an idea how the Olympics may shake out as an event now that we know NHL players are going. Again, there are three groups of four nations. The winner of each group and the best record among all three second-place teams will start the medal tournament in the Quarterfinals. The other eight nations will play a playoff game to get into the Quarterfinals. All games are single games.

If it follows 2018’s format, this is how it should go for 2022. Shootouts will take place in the group games. Winning in regulation is worth three points, winning in overtime or a shootout is worth two, losing in overtime or a shootout is worth one, and losing in regulation is worth zero. The first tiebreaker for the group is their head-to-head game. If more than two teams are tied, head-to-head results (points earned) are the first tiebreaker, goal differential in those head-to-head games are the second, and number of goals scored is the third.

When it comes to seeding for the medal tournament, the first criteria is position in the group. Then points earned. Then goal differential. Then a higher number of goals scored. And if it comes down to a fifth tiebreaker, a better IIHF ranking in 2019. In other words, a country wants to win and, if they can, win big. This is especially important for the “power” nations in each group. Here is my look at each one.

Group A - United States, Canada, Germany, and China

This group will come down to the U.S. and Canada. Either can win the Gold in 2022. Canada should have the most talented team on paper. The United States is not lacking in talent or cohesion as the USNTDP has groomed a lot of the American players for tournaments like this one. It should be fun. And given that goal differential and goals scored are important factors to decide who has that best second-place record, they should look to cream Germany and China. Germany are not going to be total doormats but I do not think they can hang against the United States or Canada short of a miracle goaltending performance.

China is going to get embarrassed in this event. To put it in perspective, China’s national team for men’s ice hockey last played in the Division II-A realm of the World Championships (in 2019, thanks to COVID-19) with the likes of Croatia, Israel, Spain, and Australia. They are ranked by the IIHF below all of the teams that just played in the Qualifying tournament; even Poland, South Korea, Hungary, and Slovenia. This is a team that will be way out of their shallow depth. Do not expect videos of the men’s ice hockey event from the 2022 Olympics to be available in China after their national team gets bodied by the Americans, Canadians, and Germans. Which they will since goal differential is an important factor and so each team has every reason to beat China by double-digits if they can. And that pounding the Americans will put on China will help them get an edge in that second place decider for automatic qualification.

Early Prediction: Canada, United States (best 2nd place team), Germany, China.

Group B - “Russia,” Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Denmark

The Russian team should be expected to be head and shoulders among the rest of the group. I know they are Russian. You know they are Russian. Only the IOC and IIHF can go along with this ROC nonsense. If they wanted to really punish them for doping, then they would not be in these games. Period. Anyway, the second place fitting is a bit up for grabs between the Czechs and Swiss. The Czech Republic is by no means bad but they are far from the dominant force in international hockey from a decade plus ago. Switzerland has been on the come up and could very well beat the Czechs and give the Russians a game. Denmark will not be total pushovers - just tell Bjorkstrand he’s in Newark - but I think they fall short in what could be a more competitive group on the rink than on the ice.

Early Prediction: Russia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Denmark

Group C - Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, and Latvia

Why couldn’t they put China in this group? Oh, right, Finland and Sweden would just smack them down like Canada and the United States will in February. Group C will be decided by the long-time rival nations. It will be fun to watch. You might as well flip a coin (apologies to the Finnish and Swedish People Who Matter, I just think it is that close). The “undercard” of Slovakia and Latvia may be interesting in that one of them will finish third in this group. But neither are so bad as China that the loser of Finland-Sweden will be able to rack up enough goals and win by such an absurd margin to gain that automatic qualifying spot for the tourney. The games should be fun. And Latvia could pull another upset out of nowhere like they did in 2014.

Early Prediction: Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Latvia

Medal Playoff Rounds:

Qualification - Finland over China, Switzerland over Latvia (2014 revenge!), Czech Republic over Denmark, and Germany over Slovakia

Quarterfinals - Canada over Germany, Russia over Czech Republic, Sweden over Switzerland, United States over Finland

Semifinals - Sweden over Russia, United States over Canada

Gold Medal Game: United States over Sweden; Bronze Medal Game: Canada over Russia

Yes, I am a homer. Also, it would be a lot funnier for the United States to keep winning Golds in China’s manipulative faces. Sports is entertainment and that would entertain me.

Your Take

Now that you know the NHL will send players to Beijing for the Winter Olympics, what is your reaction to the news? Are you happy the NHL is participating in the Winter Olympics again? Are you bothered that they are at all or that they are participating in this upcoming Winter Olympics? What are your early predictions for the Olympic men’s ice hockey event? Please leave your answers and other reactions in the comments. Thank you for reading.