NHL players will be returning to the Winter Olympics for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments, the league announced Friday as part of a joint agreement with the NHL Players Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee.
Speaking to reporters during NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that players will be allowed to participate for the first time since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“We know how important international competition is to our players,” Bettman said. "We know how much they love and want to represent their countries from which they're from, and we think this is a great stage for the best-on-best."
The 2026 Games will take place in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, and the IOC will announce the 2030 host country in July.
NHL's Olympic return a long time coming
NHL players participated in five straight Winter Olympics from 1998 to 2014, but concerns about marketing, insurance, travel costs and player injuries prevented the league, the NHLPA, the IIHF and the IOC from finalizing an agreement to continue for 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
For 2026, costs will be covered by the IIHF and the national federations and Olympic committees of each participating country.
Bettman said he strongly believes the NHL will have enough "content access" for player and game highlights, a big point of contention in the past. No previous Olympic highlights, such as Sidney Crosby's gold-medal-winning goal in overtime during the 2010 tournament, can be found on NHL.com.
"There is a recognition as to how important this is to the players and in the spirit of cooperation, particularly the work we did during COVID, everybody felt on our side it was the right thing to do," Bettman said when asked how he got NHL owners to agree to a deal. "This really came down to doing something because the players really wanted it."
As part of the NHL and NHLPA's ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020, the two sides agreed to green-light participation for the 2022 and 2026 tournaments, pending an agreement with all parties, including the IIHF and IOC.
Six weeks before the 2022 Beijing Games, however, the NHL and NHLPA changed course. The COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the main reason for backing out as the league was forced to cancel 50 regular-season games at that point due to the coronavirus. Since NHL players were unavailable, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada used rosters made up of players from international leagues, collegians and minor leaguers, as they did for 2018.
2026 men's tournament field nearly set
Nine countries have already qualified on the men’s side via their place in the IIHF World Rankings following the 2023 World Championships.
Canada, Finland, Russia, United States, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechia and Italy (hosts) are in. The final three spots will be determined through four rounds of qualification that will begin Feb. 8 and end Sept. 1.
Olympic results with NHL participation
1998: Czech Republic (gold), Russia (silver), Finland (bronze)
2002: Canada, U.S., Russia
2006: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic
2010: Canada, U.S., Finland
2014: Canada, Sweden, Finland
NHL adds four-nation international tournament for 2025
As part of his midseason state of the league, Bettman also announced that NHL players from Canada, Finland, Sweden and the United States will take part in the "4 Nations Face-Off" to be hosted in Montréal and Boston next year.
The tournament will consist of seven games played over nine days from Feb. 12 to Feb. 20, 2025. Rosters will be made up of 20 skaters and three goalies selected by each country's governing body. Eligible players must be under contract for the 2024-25 season and be on an NHL roster as of Dec. 2, 2024. National associations will announce an initial six players to their rosters this coming summer.
Games will be played with NHL rules, and teams will play three games in a Round Robin format with a 3-2-1 points system. Overtime games during the early round will be three-on-three for 10 minutes and, if the game remains tied, will be decided by a three-round shootout. The top two teams will move on to a one-game final, which will have an overtime format like the Stanley Cup playoffs: five-on-five sudden death with 20-minute periods until one team scores.
This will mark the first time that NHL players have participated in a "best-on-best" tournament since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
“This marks a new era for international hockey,” NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said. “We view this event as a building block to a larger World Cup.”
This type of NHL/NHLPA-backed tournament has been in the works for years. The league has attempted to stage a follow-up to the 2016 World Cup, but various issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns over disrupting the regular-season schedule and political issues around the world (see: Russia) prevented discussions from advancing.
Russia and Belarus have been banned from competing in IIHF-sanctioned tournaments through 2024, and the NHL severed all business ties with Russia following the country's invasion of Ukraine. IIHF president Luc Tardif said a decision on eligibility for both countries for the 2024 World Championships in May will come this month — a decision that could make it clearer where they stand on the issue for the 2026 Olympics.
The NHL and NHLPA have aimed to hammer out an international schedule that features Olympic participation and a World Cup every two years. There is hope another World Cup will take place in 2028.