NHL players have expressed an overwhelming desire for Beijing Olympics participation.
After the league skipped the sporting showcase four years ago, it could be the last chance for some of the game’s current stars — including Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin — to compete under a unique, global spotlight.
And for others — like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews — it’s their first opportunity.
It seems less likely every day.
The NHLers began to understand what a positive COVID-19 testing could mean when they are away hunting gold in China.
It isn’t pretty.
According to the International Olympic Committee, an athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 from China must produce two negative results within 24 hours. The quarantine period for those who are unable to comply with the requirements could be between 21 days and five months.
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That would mean potentially missing most or all of March’s NHL schedule — while isolating on the other side of the world — when the majority of teams are ramping up for a playoff push.
McDavid, who has been added to Canada’s provisional team, stated that it was “unsettling” that McDavid believed China would stay longer than expected.
Matthews, who would become the United States’ focal point, stated that he is just “playing it to his ears” while waiting for answers.
“I’d love for to go, and I’d like to compete,” stated the Toronto Maple Leafs’ sniper. “But there are certain things that many of us would love to see work out.”
“We all hope we go,” said Leafs captain John Tavares. Tavares was McDavid’s Beijing teammate. “But clearly, things are a bit more uncertain than they were.”
Talks of reintroducing protocols from the past
The Omicron variant, which is fast moving, poses a serious threat to the NHL. There is also a lot of uncertainty about the future.
This season, the league saw close to 150 players sign up for its COVID-19 protocol.
This week, the NHL and NHL Players Association medical experts held conference calls that were focused on safety improvements. According to the Associated Press, Wednesday’s call focused on reintroduction protocols. This includes limiting players to their hotels while they travel and allowing daily testing. It will take effect immediately until at least January 7.
Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks, who saw his team suffer the worst outbreak in league history and had four players put into protocol, said Tuesday night that he would support an increase in safety and health measures, similar to the 2020-21 campaign.
The NHLPA has held several calls with its members regarding the Olympic participation question. Another call is scheduled.
After five consecutive appearances, 2018 was the last year for the NHL. The union and the NHL negotiated a return of the Games.
Because of the disruption, owners have not valued the tournament. However, it was important to the players that the collective bargaining agreement was extended. It brought the game online in four months after the pandemic.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there are a number of concerns — not just COVID-19 — with going to China, but reiterated the decision ultimately rests with the players.
According to Bill Daly, deputy commissioner, the only way that the league can pull the plug on the season is if it’s caused by the coronavirus.
There is a deadline approaching for those who have lingering worries
The NHL has until January 10th to withdraw from the Olympics because of COVID-19. However, the NHL also has the right to cancel the plan at any point. The NHL has already postponed ten games from the league schedule, while the Flames are still out of action through Saturday.
Bettman spoke out about Beijing 2022 during last week’s Florida board of governors meeting. “And we’ve noticed that a lot of players are now expressing their concerns.”
It’s also a situation that gives Tavares pause.
“You speak about the five-week quarantine,” stated the father of his young sons. “If you’ve already been over there for a few weeks, that’s a long time.
“It takes a very long time.”
There’s very little left of this to make an Olympic decision.
If the league or players — or both — decline to go to the Games, don’t expect a major rejigging of the NHL schedule.
Bettman stated that most venues are now booked for shows and concerts during this period, despite being dormant since the pandemic.
“All buildings have been as aggressive as possible — as they should be — in trying to rebook dates,” Bettman said. “It’s certainly not like our clubs have three weeks of empty buildings.”