NHLPA advises players not to participate in qualifiers for Winter Olympics

May 27, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference before game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
May 27, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference before game one of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, the NHL schedule currently hosting a two-week stoppage for the Olympics, a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.

As reported by Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the NHL Players Association will not be paying players COVID-19 insurance at the Olympic qualifying games or the Olympics itself. Just when you thought it would have been enough to get players to think twice about participating in the 2022 Games, the NHL will also not be paying players for any games missed if they contract COVID-19 during the Olympics, should they opt to attend.

The interesting spin on the scenario is that the NHL has still yet to decide on its participation fully and has not released an amended schedule to accommodate the two-week stoppage. This would mark the second consecutive Olympics that the NHL has decided not to participate in the competition.

Why does the NHL not compete in the Winter Olympics?

It’s fairly cut-and-dry why the NHL chose to sit out in 2018 and potentially in 2022; COVID-19 aside. Before the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the International Olympic Committee and NHL struck a deal that would have the IOC front the costs of getting the NHL’s players to the Olympics and pay for their insurance during the tenure. Of course, the NHL is halted during the Olympics, so the league has no income. Before the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, the IOC decided to no longer cover the expenses of bringing the NHL’s best to the Olympics. The IOC has no expenses with NBA players being involved in the Summer Olympics, so why should they pay the NHL to be involved in the Winter Olympics? It’s a fair thought; however, that decision has cost the IOC from having the best professional hockey players in the world for seemingly two straight Olympics.

The International Ice Hockey Federation offered a total sum of $20 million to keep the NHL’s presence in the Olympics, but as it turns out, money was not the only obstacle. The NHL is worried about its players being injured in the middle of their regular season while not playing in an NHL game.

"“I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”"

The NHL released a statement in 2017 regarding their decision to not play in the 2018 games, citing a general disinterest from those within the front offices of each team. “We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA, etc.) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject,” the statement read.

A break in the season can be great if a particular NHL team does not have many players participating in the Olympics. You can rest and hit the reset button if necessary. Conversely, it could be just as harmful. Injuries, breaks in rhythm, etc., are all things that can arise from the season stopping.

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the last time the NHL participated, is where NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saw the NHL season become significantly affected by the Olympics as a multitude of season-ending injuries occurred to some of the biggest players in the league.

  • Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit Red Wings
  • New York Islanders – Jonathan Tavares
  • Aleksander Barkov – Florida Panthers

What does this mean for the Tampa Bay Lightning on either side of the spectrum?

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, injuries would be the biggest concern, with a potential of eight players that would represent their country in the Olympics. In 2006, the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche each sent 10 players to Torino and saw their seasons end in the first round (Red Wings) and second-round (Avalanche) of the playoffs that year.

The only positive spin that Lightning could take away from its players participating in the Olympics would be that they have a great farm system with the Syracuse Crunch. The team has played through adversity and injuries before, as Nikita Kucherov missed the 2020-2021 regular season.

It’s an honor and a privilege to be called upon to represent your country in the Olympics, there is no denying it, but at what price? On the international stage, the gameplay is just as hard-hitting and tenacious as playoff hockey is. In 2017, the NHL held a poll that saw 73% of American voters were against player participation in the Winter Olympics. No matter which side of the fence you find yourself on, the common ground would be that the NHL and NHLPA need to decide and make the appropriate changes to the schedule as soon as possible.