NHL players will not compete at Beijing Olympics: reports

·3-min read
The NHL will not send players to the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to reports (AFP/Scott Taetsch)

National Hockey League players will not compete in February's Beijing Winter Olympics in the wake of 50 NHL games being postponed over Covid-19, according to reports Tuesday.

Multiple US news outlets, including ESPN, cited unnamed sources that said the league and NHL Players Association reached an agreement not to send athletes to China.

Without the NHL's elite millionaire stars, national teams at the Olympics would resemble those at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, when minor-league and retired players filled out rosters and Russian athletes captured gold.

"It's disappointing," said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, a 31-year-old Canadian center for the reigning NHL champions.

"For whatever reason, the Olympic card just hasn't worked out in my favor. It sucks. That's something I probably won't have a chance to do now."

The NHL and players union had agreed to send athletes to the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics unless league seasons were impacted by Covid.

With Tuesday's Washington at Philadelphia game being postponed by an outbreak from the visitors, the NHL has been forced to postpone 50 games this season.

The NHL paused the season for four days after Tuesday's lone contest, in which reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay edged the host Vegas Golden Knights 4-3.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn't there to see it after entering the NHL's Covid-19 health protocol just before the game.

Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner had already declined an invitation to represent Sweden at the Olympics.

But his compatriot Victor Hedman, a defenseman with Tampa Bay, mourned his missed chance Tuesday.

"It's something we've been looking forward to for a very long time," Hedman said.

"We were preparing for a battle in February in China. Looks like it's not going to happen. It's a bummer for us. You don't know when you're going to get another chance.

"To not be able to go, it's going to hurt for a while."

Staying home during Beijing's Olympics would open two weeks to reschedule NHL contests and provide rest for most players as the league tries to complete a full 82-game campaign for each squad.

The NHL had until January 10 to withdraw without financial penalty.

NHL club owners have not been fond of shutting down the season to send players to the Winter Olympics -- due to the risk of player injuries and lost income in a prime month of the season.

But NHL players have pushed to participate since making their Olympic debut in 1998 at Nagano, Japan.

Alex Ovechkin, the Russian star winger for the Washington Capitals, was among the most passionate about being unable to go in 2018.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who scored the golden goal for Canada to win the 2010 Vancouver Olympic final, sympathized with those who may miss their chance for Olympic gold.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of two," Crosby said.

"I definitely feel for the guys who have missed numerous opportunities.

"These are experiences of a lifetime that you don't get very many of as an athlete."

- Players return on Sunday -

NHL games planned for Wednesday and Thursday were called off ahead of a scheduled three-day Christmas break, which was tweaked to have players return to work on Sunday.

Teams now will be off Wednesday through Saturday and return Sunday for testing, with negative tests required to enter facilities.

On Sunday, the NHL announced that all games involving cross-border travel for US and Canadian clubs would not be played.

Nine teams had shut down operations to the break by Monday, when concerns rose about the NHL skipping Beijing.

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