Latest shutdown casts doubt on NHL's Beijing Olympic participation

Los Angeles (AFP) – The National Hockey League on Sunday suspended all games involving cross border travel between Canada and the United States, putting in doubt the players ability to participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics.


The league was scheduled to take a three-week break in February so the NHL could take part in the Winter Games for the first time since 2014 in Sochi, but with close to 40 games postponed due to Covid-19 outbreaks, the league might now have to use that time to get the regular season schedule back on track.

The league said on Sunday it is expected to make a decision on the Olympics in the coming days.

"Given the disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events and the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days," a spokesman for the league said Sunday.

Officials postponed about a dozen cross border games between December 20-23 on Sunday on top of two dozen contests already shelved due to Covid-19 concerns.

"Due to the concern about cross-border travel and, given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions, effective on Monday, all games involving a Canadian-based team playing a U.S.-based team from Monday, Dec. 20 through the start of the Holiday break on Dec. 23, will be postponed and rescheduled," the NHL said in a news release.

On Saturday the league announced the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs were effectively shutting down early for the holidays. The Detroit Red Wings were added to the list on Sunday. The Wings were set to play Colorado on Monday and Minnesota on Thursday before breaking for Christmas.

The NHL is hoping its 100% vaccination record -- which is one of the best of all the major pro sports in North America -- will help it avoid a complete shutdown.

"We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular-season schedule," the league said. "Although there has been a recent increase in positive Covid test results among Players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness.

"With virtually all Players and Club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis."

Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that the league and the vast majority of the players are still in favour of participating in the Olympics.

The NHL has a January 10 deadline to opt out of the Olympics without financial penalty.

At this point just one NHL player, Robin Lehner, a backup goalie for Team Sweden, has said he would decline an invitation to the Olympics.

Team Canada's top player Connor McDavid said recently he has a strong desire to take part in the Games but has heard rumours about someone testing positive then having to spend a lengthy time in quarantine.

More uneasy

McDavid, who is one of three players already named to Canada's squad, said recently, "It's obviously going to be a very fluid situation. There hasn't been a ton of information (coming) out, and then there's that three- to five-week (quarantine) thing. It's kind of been floating around. Obviously, it's unsettling if that were to be the case when you go over there.

"I'm still a guy that's wanting to go play in the Olympics. But we also want to make sure it's safe for everybody. For all the athletes, not just for hockey players."

McDavid has been named to Team Canada along with forward Sidney Crosby and defenceman Alex Pietrangelo.

Team Canada forward Connor McDavid said it is "unsettling" to hear rumours of lengthy quarantine times at the Beijing Olympics
Team Canada forward Connor McDavid said it is "unsettling" to hear rumours of lengthy quarantine times at the Beijing Olympics Steph Chambers GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Pietrangelo said he is taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I've got four kids that are under the age of three and a half," he said. "For me to be potentially locked up there for five weeks plus the Olympics, that's a long time being away from my family.

"I'm not going to make a decision until we get all the answers, because those are kind of hard to come by right now. So, we're all kind of sitting and waiting."

Toronto captain John Tavares, who was selected to Team Canada for the 2014 Games in Sochi, said he is monitoring the situation closely.

"I think we all hope to go," Tavares said. "But clearly I think things are a little bit more uneasy than they were.

"I'm probably a little more uneasy than I was a number of weeks ago, or a few months ago."