(ATR) Reaction is positive to a potential National Hockey League players’ return to the Olympic stage at Beijing 2022.
USA scores against Russia at the Sochi 2014 Games. (ATR)
A clause in the recently revised four-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players Association paves the way for professional hockey’s best players to compete at both the Beijing 2022 and Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Games.
The CBA Article 24 was amended to include new subsection 24.10 which states: "The NHL and the NHLPA commit to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics, subject to the negotiation of terms acceptable to each of the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF (and/or IOC)."
IOC president Thomas Bach was pleased with the surprise development.
“We appreciate this move because we want the best players at the Olympic Games and therefore we have always kept the door open to NHL players and appreciate that so many have expressed their wish to participate in the Olympic Games,” Bach said, responding to a question from Around the Rings
“In the new agreement, this door has been opened for them so it’s a great step forward to making this happen in Beijing and Milan-Cortina,” he said.
Speculation is that the league might once again request concessions from the IOC such as covering player insurance and team travel costs, as well as permission to use Olympic footage.
Canada won its second consecutive gold in Sochi. (ATR)
“I will not comment on any request which may come,” Bach said. “We haven’t received any so far and I hope none will come, but this might be a little naïve.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league owners opted to pass on PyeongChang 2018 when a deal couldn’t be reached with the IOC and IIHF. South Korea was perceived as a distant and less than optimal location to grow the game internationally.
International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel advised there are still some obstacles to overcome before NHL participation could be fully confirmed.
“There are still some challenges left to address, including technical and practical discussions with all key stakeholders, before we can 100 percent confirm that we will have NHL players back on the ice at the Olympics,” Fasel said. “But this is a very positive and necessary step forward.”
NHL Players and Coaches React
Elite players expressed their satisfaction with the positive Olympic-related news, some of whom have never competed at the Games.
“It’s important for any player to participate at the Olympics and more important to represent your country and I have not done so thus far, so it’s very important for me,” said Russian-born New York Rangers forward Artemy Panarin.
“I’ve played world championships, world juniors and every other Team Canada event, so it would be really cool to play with the best players from Canada,” said 24-year-old Nathan McKinnon, a former number one draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche.
“Hopefully, I can be part of that team in ‘22 and help Canada win gold.”
“To play hockey somewhere like China or hopefully in Italy someday, it will be an amazing experience for sure,” Mackinnon added.
Philadelphia Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault (ATR)
Beijing 2022 would mark the sixth time that the North American league halted its season to compete at the Olympics following Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014.
Veteran head coaches weighed in on the potential Olympic return, which could certainly be viewed as an unwelcome mid-season distraction for those leading NHL clubs.
“I could go either way, really my main focus as a coach is to win a Stanley Cup,” said Philadelphia Flyers and Team Canada coach Alain Vigneault. “The players wanted to get back in the Olympics and that’s great.
“Honestly for me, it’s Stanley Cup first and then the Olympics. If they wanted to put it in the CBA and get back at it, then fine with me.”
Columbus Blue Jackets and former Team USA coach John Tortorella was as colorful as usual with a response to ATR
John Tortorella was Team USA assistant coach at Vancouver 2010. (ATR)
“I’ve had a blast and been honored to be involved in some of these tournaments but I believe, and I think I’m in the minority, that the Olympics should be amateur,” Tortorella said. “I watch the Summer Olympics and hear the stories of the grind that these athletes go through and what they have to do to get ready.
“I feel the same way about the Winter Olympics – I know it’s probably not your best players and I have strong thoughts and might sound a little ridiculous having been involved and coached in it.
“Winning the silver medal in Vancouver was fantastic, but I still feel they should be amateur players.”
The Beijing 2022 Olympics tournament will be comprised of the world’s eight top ranked teams, host China and three countries still to be determined at future qualifying events.
Additional steps to Olympic inclusion will most likely take a backseat as Bettman and the NHL oversee a 24-team season restart beginning Aug. 1 in Edmonton and Toronto, Canada. The Stanley Cup trophy could be awarded as late as early October.
Fasel seems anxious to get down to Olympic business though.
“After the conclusion of the NHL playoffs, we look forward to renewing our discussions with the NHL, the NHLPA, the IOC, BOCOG, and our Member National Associations, and together ensure that we can provide the very best platform for our game in Beijing and beyond,” said the veteran IIHF leader.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli
Follow Brian on Twitter: @Brian_Pinelli
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