What we’re hearing about the NHL, COVID

The National Hockey League has been a huge success, with the last three Stanley Cup champions being from the US. The way forward for hockey games is unclear; some say it will stay in Canada while others are looking to establish their own league and go head-to-head against the NHL.

The “hockey olympics 2022 qualification” is a topic that has been on the minds of many. The NHL and COVID are discussing how to make the process easier for teams.

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The opening game of the men’s hockey competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics is set for Feb. 9. It’s still unclear if NHL players will compete in the Beijing Olympics.

With the COVID-19 epidemic looming over everything, ESPN NHL correspondents Emily Kaplan, Kristen Shilton, and Greg Wyshynski take a look at the difficulties, fears, and challenges confronting the NHL and its players only two months out from the Olympics.

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When must the NHL make a definitive decision on the Olympics?

Emily Kaplan (Emily Kaplan): When the NHL and NHLPA reached an agreement with the IOC and IIHF concerning player participation in the Olympics, they included a stipulation that the NHL side may opt out without penalty until January 10th. (As a reminder, the Olympics will begin on February 3rd.) Although the NHL could potentially opt out sooner, there would be financial ramifications.

Because everyone is keeping an eye on their finances right now — the NHL, which is still recouping money lost during the epidemic, has kept its salary ceiling steady — the anticipation is that we’ll know officially on Jan. 10 or sooner.

What’s the most recent information you’ve received regarding the decision?

Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, never intended to send players to the 2022 Olympics, according to Kaplan. Before the NHL opted not to send players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, players had competed in five consecutive Olympics. Bettman and many NHL owners believe the juice isn’t worth the squeezing because of the scheduling disturbance, danger of players being hurt, and disadvantageous licensing and marketing deals with the IOC and IIHF.

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However, during the most recent round of collective bargaining discussions, they reached an agreement with the players to enable them to leave, and Bettman wants to carry it out in good faith.

At this moment, the only way the league office will withdraw out of the Olympics is if COVID-19 causes severe scheduling disruption, making it impossible to conclude the season on time. In other words, if the league believes the present three-week gap is truly necessary for rescheduling games. We haven’t arrived yet.

A growing possibility is that players themselves may not want to compete in the Olympics and request a withdrawal. Olympic participation has always been very significant to athletes; for many, the chance to represent their nation on the world stage is a boyhood goal. However, given the present context, which includes concerns about the virus, stringent regulations, and an unconventional athlete village experience, as well as the prospect of being quarantined in China for three weeks if they test positive, players are beginning to exhibit some worry.

The NHLPA is in frequent contact with its members, assessing their level of comfort. Currently, the worries are insufficient to cause a change of direction. However, it’s something that’s still changing and might alter in the next weeks.

What if the NHL chooses not to participate?

Kaplan: According to reports, if the NHL decides not to travel to the Olympics, it has developed a shadow schedule with just a one-week vacation instead of a three-week break. It would generate a slew of problems; facility availability is limited, and there isn’t much wiggle space with concerts and other athletic events in full force.

Players had also been anticipating a three-week respite. Many players who aren’t on the Olympic short lists see the Olympic break as a much-needed rest throughout the season. Many of them have vacations scheduled in the Caribbean that they would have to cancel.

The Olympic hockey competition will continue even if NHL players do not participate. Team USA would be made up of collegiate players, pros playing abroad, and even a few ex NHL players, as was the situation for the 2018 Olympics, in which NHL players did not compete (Brian Gionta, at age 39, served as the U.S. captain in PyeongChang). The NHL coaches named to lead Team USA (Mike Sullivan) and Team Canada (Jon Cooper) would also not be there, and the federations would pick substitutes.

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However, there is growing worry about the implications of visiting and staying in Beijing, both in the short and long term. For some younger players who feel they will have another opportunity to compete in the Olympics later, the disadvantages of attending this year may outweigh the benefits. However, some senior participants, aware that these Games may be their only chance, seem to be more willing to continuing despite the hazards.

The basic line is that emotions are ephemeral. The more information players acquire (about possible quarantines, being trapped in China, the consequences of a positive test while abroad, and so on), the more things may change. Issues about human rights breaches or other political concerns about the nation were not discussed by the athletes we spoke with.

There’s also the matter of the family to consider.

“There are younger men who are just beginning families who are thinking about these things. And they may believe they may have another chance in a few years “according to a player source. “However, how much pressure do men feel when it comes to representing their country?”

Have any players yet opted out of the game?

Greg Wyshynski: The Vegas Golden Knights’ Robin Lehner became the first high-profile player to declare that he had turned down an offer to represent his country in the Beijing Olympics.

After the Vegas Golden Knights beat the Calgary Flames on Sunday, he was questioned about competing with Jacob Markstrom of Calgary for the starting goalkeeper spot for Team Sweden. Lehner stated he declined an offer to compete in the Winter Games from Sweden. He took the choice “for health concerns” and after consulting with his psychiatrist about the matter.

In the past, Lehner has been an outspoken opponent of the NHL’s COVID-19 policy, alleging a lack of regard for a player’s mental health in both the decision not to let families in the playoff “bubbles” in 2020 and the decision not to ease restrictions for vaccinated players last season.

COVID-19 breakouts have already forced several teams to postpone games. What is the procedure for that?

Shilton: A team shutdown is not triggered by a certain amount of COVID-19 occurrences. Everything is handled on an individual basis. The decision to postpone games is based on a number of variables, with the league’s medical groups, the NHLPA, and individual teams ultimately making the judgment.

How teams regulate the spread is one of the most important aspects of the procedure. The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins have both lost multiple players to sickness but have not been shut down, while the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders have had games postponed. The difference is that in the latter two cases, players became ill one after the other for a long time, but in the other cases, the majority of afflicted players tested positive within a few days of each other, and the teams were better equipped to contain the virus from there.

Beyond the health and safety of everyone engaged, the NHL is also concerned about competitive balance. As a result, if an epidemic reaches a point where a team can no longer be expected to compete at a high level, games must be postponed.

How is COVID-19 affecting the NHL All-Star Weekend?

NHL’s Wyshynski The All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas is slated for February 4 and 5, 2022, with the skills competition on Friday and the All-Star Game on Saturday. Both events will take place within T-Mobile Arena, however the NHL intends to hold certain skills competition events outdoors on the Las Vegas Strip.

The league plans to keep the All-Star Weekend as regular as possible, with VIP parties and the league’s annual “fan fest” set up inside the city’s convention center.

For the time being, the NHL intends to follow the local COVID-19 procedures for the events. For admission to Vegas Golden Knights home games, T-Mobile Arena does not need evidence of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Masks are, however, required for spectators attending games in Nevada, as per the state’s instruction. Masks are not necessary for guests under the age of two.

The NHL and NHLPA are discussing rules for players traveling to Las Vegas for the All-Star Game, particularly those who will be flying to Beijing for the Olympics shortly thereafter.

Before leaving for China, Olympic competitors must provide documentation of negative COVID-19 test results, and they will be tested again once they arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport. While nothing has been officially agreed, it is expected that Olympic athletes would be subjected to more stringent rules than non-Olympians during the All-Star Weekend, ranging from separate hotel accommodations to bans on participation in public activities.

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Linda Cohn and Emily Kaplan, hosts, bring their hockey knowledge and enthusiasm to the show, analyzing the latest news from the league and interviewing the greatest stars on and off the rink. Listen to it here »

Players’ primary worry right now is the three-week quarantine. Isolating in a hotel room for three weeks isn’t good for anyone’s mental health — and many players have been scarred by their experience in the 2020 bubble — and compounding the problem is that they’re stuck in China, in the midst of a global pandemic, with the fear that border rules may change if a serious outbreak occurs. Players don’t want to miss any NHL games following the Olympics, which is a serious possibility if they contract COVID-19 there.

If a player gets injured, his NHL contract will be guaranteed and paid by the IIHF or his national organization, as it has been in prior Olympics. However, they did not get insurance for COVID-19, which means that if a player misses NHL games after Beijing due to COVID-19, he will not be compensated.

The NHL and NHLPA are working on organizing a charter flight for players to and from Beijing; if a player is trapped there, he’ll have to travel commercial, which may be a hassle.

The last time NHL players competed in the Olympics, this was the scene. Is it possible for anybody to dethrone Canada in 2022? Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

So, who are the favorites for the 2022 men’s ice hockey competition assuming all goes according to plan?

Wyshynski: It’s most likely the one with Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid as the second-line center.

As usual, Canada will be stacked, with players like Connor McDavid, Mitchell Marner, Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point, Mark Stone, and Cale Makar making their Olympic debuts. The past two times the NHL competed in the Winter Olympics, the Canadians won gold in 2010 and 2014.

Carey Price, the 34-year-old goaltender who won in Sochi, is set to contend with Jordan Binnington for the starting job in Canada. Team USA may have an advantage over its archrivals in the crease, as Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson, Jack Campbell, and Thatcher Demko make up the deepest position on the American side. Auston Matthews is competing in his first Olympics, while fellow star center Jack Eichel is slated to miss the Games owing to his recovery from neck surgery.

The most significant shift for the United States is on defense, where a slew of rising stars are making their Olympic debuts: Adam Fox, Charlie McAvoy, Quinn Hughes, Jaccob Slavin, Zach Werenski, and Seth Jones are among those in the mix.

The United States and Canada are in the same group as Leon Draisaitl and the Germans, as well as China’s national team — at least for now, as the IIHF considers changing China for Norway to avoid embarrassing the host country in group play.

As Olympic Athletes from Russia, the Russian Olympic Committee won gold in the 2018 Winter Games. (Recall the World Anti-Doping Agency’s decision prohibiting Russian athletes from participating under their country’s name and flag for four years.) The Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Denmark will play in the same group as Alex Ovechkin and his teammates. The ROC is a medal contender if it can play well enough defensively and/or have outstanding goaltending from one of its top goaltenders.

Rivals Sweden and Finland, as well as Slovakia and Latvia, make up the other group. The Finns will have some attacking firepower up front, with Aleksander Barkov, Mikko Rantanen, and Sebastian Aho among their attackers, but may they see Tuukka Rask give way to Juuse Saros in goal?

In terms of a changing of the guard, Sweden had the Sedin twins and Henrik Zetterberg up front, as well as Henrik Lundqvist in goal, the last time it had NHL players at the Olympics. It might be Elias Pettersson’s squad in China, with Jacob Markstrom presumably taking over in goal.

As of September, Canada (-125), Team USA (+350), and Sweden (+500) are the early betting favorites for gold, with lineups still to be determined.

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The “nhl teams” is a great article that gives an overview of what we’re hearing about the NHL. It includes a list of all 30 NHL teams, and their latest news.

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