Today the NHL and NHLPA jointly announced that they will not be sending their players to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Multiple Tampa Bay Lightning players and head coach Jon Cooper are now set to miss out on representing their home countries.
The 2022 Olympics were set to include NHL players for the first time since the 2014 Sochi Olympics after the league opted not to allow their players to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
For Tampa Bay Lightning players, the 2022 Games would have been the first opportunity for most to represent their home countries on the Olympic stage. Only Corey Perry, Team Canada in 2010 and 2014, currently possess an Olympic medal on the Lightning.
In recent weeks there has been apprehensiveness from some players around the league concerning potential quarantine requirements, especially in the case of a positive test at the Games, but that did not look like it was going to deter the majority of players from going if selected.
Now, with COVID cases surging around the league to end the year, and the NHL postponing games for nearly a week, there was no choice for the league but to cancel NHL participation in the Olympics and use the originally allotted Olympic break as a time to make-up the postponed games.
The league had until January 10 to pull their players out, but with some teams already having more than a weeks’ worth of games postponed, the writing was on the wall. The NHL wanted to do everything to allow the players to participate. They made a promise to the players but with the material damage to the schedule, this was no longer possible.
Let’s look at some of the players on the Lightning that were already lined up to represent their countries, and those that were thought to have had decent odds of making their country’s roster.
Lightning players (and coach) that had been named to provisional lists
In October, participating countries in the Olympic tournament were required to submit a list of the first three players named to their rosters. Unsurprisingly, the talent-rich back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions led the way among NHL teams with five Lightning players being selected.
Additionally, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was to lead Team Canada behind the bench if NHL players participated in the Olympics.
Jon Cooper (HC) – Canada
Ondrej Palat – Czech Republic
Andrei Vasilevskiy – Russia
Nikita Kucherov – Russia
Erik Cernak – Slovakia
Victor Hedman – Sweden
Lightning players that had chances of making their country’s roster
Behind the five that had been guaranteed spots if Olympic participation had gone through, there were several strong candidates on the Lightning to make their national rosters.
Brayden Point was expected to make Team Canada after centering the Lightning’s top line in both Stanley Cup runs. And Steven Stamkos was trending in the right direction this season after making it clear from the beginning how big of a goal making Team Canada was for him after he was forced to miss the 2014 games due to injury.
Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta were strong candidates to represent their respective home countries. And Ryan McDonagh was expected to challenge for a spot on a Team USA that would have had the option of going with multiple talented young defensemen over the experienced veteran who competed with team USA in 2014. This may have been McDonagh’s last shot at competing in the Olympics.
Bradyen Point – Canada
Steven Stamkos – Canada
Jan Rutta – Czech Republic
Mikhail Sergachev – Russia
Ryan McDonagh – USA
Was this Stamkos and Hedman’s last chance at the Olympics?
Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman have been the biggest proponents on the Lightning for NHL players participating in the 2022 Olympics. Both have been unable to participate in the Olympics before and now are both currently 31 years old. By the time of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics, both will likely be in the twilight years of their careers or retired.
Stamkos, in particular, faces the toughest road to making the 2026 Games. Canada is like a factory for producing elite forward talent. Their wealth of options is so deep that even Stamkos, a top scorer of his generation, was believed to have been on the outside looking in to begin the season. Stamkos will be 35 when the 2026 Olympic rosters are selected, and two seasons removed from when his current contract with the Lightning ends. Will Stamkos still be on the Lightning? Will he still be playing pro hockey? Not even Stamkos knows those answers now, but it is likely his chances of making an Olympic roster will be much less than they were this season.
Hedman looks to have the best chance at having another chance to represent his country at the 2026 Olympics. He was expected to be the top defenseman on Team Sweden, and possibly the captain for the 2022 Games. Looking ahead towards Sweden’s left side defensemen options in 2026, Hedman should remain the top choice from his generation, but 2018 1st overall pick Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo Sabres) will be entering his prime years in the leadup to the games and 2021 6th overall pick Simon Edvinsson (Detroit Red Wings) could be challenging for a spot on Team Sweden too. Hedman’s current contract will end before the season including the 2026 Olympics, so if he is to participate as an NHL and Lightning player, he would have to sign a new contract with the team.