Quick Thoughts on Beijing 2022's Men's Ice Hockey Tournament
We all know the National Hockey League (NHL) - specifically the owners and league officials - doesn't like the Olympics the way they sh/could. The Winter Games, although just once every four years, interrupts the regular season and the risk of injury to players with the remainder of the season and the playoffs to come is too much to bear in the high stakes (and money) drama of the NHL season. I've previously written more on why the NHL tends to demur, so I won't belabor (much).
But it's why the confirmation that NHL players would attend Beijing 2022 - announced a few months ago - was greeted with celebration and anticipation after much de riguer hand-wringing. Ice hockey is a marquee sport at the Games, and the only true ("stick-and-ball") team sport* in the winter editions, and having elite-level players just simply raises the profile and impact of the Games.
But Covid-19 has proved to be too much of a burden, with enough NHL regular season games cancelled to allow owners and league officials the out they likely wanted anyway. Sure, blame it on the pandemic, but plenty of other athletes risk post-Olympic effects on their remaining season to make it to Beijing. Biathletes, curlers, figure skaters, skiers, etc. all have various world championship events or world cup races to complete - events, which if they were to miss due to any extended quarantining in Beijing, would cost them individually, severely. But NHL players are at the whimsy of team owners, who decidedly won't risk it.
So, what now? At Pyeongchang 2018, Team (Russia) finally won gold after a drought back to Albertville 1992, thanks to players largely from their KHL domestic league. Team Germany was a surprise silver medalist, perhaps due to a weakened competitive field from other hockey-dominant nations like Canada and the United States, so traditionally dependent upon NHLers.
And, it should be noted...the women's tournament is not affected. Full-strength teams from powerhouses Canada and the U.S. are expected. Fans can certainly get their elite-level hockey fix in with that tournament. Women lead the way at the Olympics, again!
Beyond 2022, maybe we stop worrying about whether or not the NHL will participate. It's a little tiresome to have the same runaround every four years. Will Torino 2026 be a stronger market for NHL-as-a-business stakeholders? European NHL players may say yes.
Or maybe the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will strengthen its attempt to push 3x3 hockey on us. Hey, if basketball can do it, why not hockey? That can be a distraction from the NHL drama.
And in the meantime, those 2022 hockey jerseys will still look good! Whichever men are wearing them...
*p.s. Put in bandy already!