The National Hockey League (NHL) and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have come to an agreement.
The two sides decided players would not participate in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic men’s hockey tournament scheduled for February.
The decision comes after a material interruption of the NHL’s regular-season schedule because of increasing COVID-19 cases. The interruption also includes the consistently rising number of postponed games.
“The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament. Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our Players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
“We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players, but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone’s best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026.”
The NHL had until Jan. 10, 2022, to opt-out of the Olympics without a financial penalty.
The way this situation develops could cool betting interest in Olympic hockey next year. Not only that, it could lessen the urgency to get the Ontario betting market launched before the February Games.
Disruption to the league calendar
One day before it released the Olympic statement, the league also announced a pause in the season from Dec. 21-25.
So far, the league has benched ten teams due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and postponed 50 games this season.
With the large number of games already postponed through Dec. 23, NHL feels Olympic participation is no longer feasible.
“Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs in a timely manner,” the statement continues.
“Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed.”
The NHL All-Star Game is still on for Feb. 5.
Should have seen it coming
The NHL players have continuously participated in the Winter Olympics since 1998.
When the NHL and NHLPA initially agreed to go to China, they promised players they would do everything to get them to Beijing. The two parties officially committed to the 2022 Winter Games in September.
However, the International Ice Hockey Federation agreement allowed NHL and NHLPA to withdraw. That is if COVID-19 circumstances rendered participation “impractical or unsafe.”
Omicron threatens to make this a challenging season for the Winter Games and several pro leagues. It’s also making an impact on Canada’s igaming market.
And these past few weeks are making the launch of Ontario’s online gambling market delayed even further.
Initially, we expected to see the market opening to commercial operators by the end of 2021. But as of earlier this month, the consensus in the industry indicates a push to late-February, early March.
Now, under the given circumstances, we may have to wait a little longer.
But, how much longer?