NHL players will not participate at Beijing 2022 ©Getty Images

The National Hockey League (NHL) has confirmed players will not participate in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, citing the COVID-19 pandemic's disruption to its regular season.

Increasing COVID-19 cases and a rising number of postponed games were highlighted by the NHL.

"The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL players to represent their countries and participate in a ‘best on best’ tournament," said Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner.

"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.

"Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events - 50 games already have been postponed through Dec. 23 - Olympic participation is no longer feasible. 

"We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organising 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.

"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. 

"Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilising 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."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said disruption to the league season meant the Winter Olympics was no longer feasible ©Getty Images
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said disruption to the league season meant the Winter Olympics was no longer feasible ©Getty Images

The NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) had held talks over participation in the Beijing 2022 ice hockey tournament, with players participation having become increasingly uncertain in recent days.

An increase in COVID-19 despite the NHL players being close of 100 per cent vaccinated had led to postponements of matches, while players had expressed concerns over quarantine regulations at Beijing 2022.

An agreement had been reached by the NHL and NHLPA in September which would allow players to compete at the Games.

The two parties had written into the new collective bargaining agreement earlier this year that players could participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026.

A COVID-19 stipulation was inserted, which meant players would not travel to Beijing if the NHL regular season was "materially impacted" by the pandemic.

The withdrawal of players from NHL, which is largely regarded as the best domestic ice hockey league in the world, will come as a blow to Games' organisers.

It will also mark the second consecutive Winter Olympics where NHL players are absent.

“Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA executive director.

“COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone.

“No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilise the Olympic period to reschedule these games.

“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed.

“But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important.

“We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.”

NHL players will be absent from successive Winter Olympics having also missed Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images
NHL players will be absent from successive Winter Olympics having also missed Pyeongchang 2018 ©Getty Images

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said it understood the decision and expressed confidence in the players who make up the country's squad for the Games.

Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo were among the NHL stars included on Canada's initial list for the Games, who will now be absent.

“Today’s announcement by the NHL is undoubtedly disappointing for some hockey fans," said David Shoemaker, COC chief executive and secretary general.

“However, given the recent changes to the NHL schedule, the COC understands the decision.

“There is an extraordinarily deep talent pool in Canadian hockey.

“We’re excited to rally behind the men’s team as it steps on to the ice for its first game on February 10th, attempting to win its fourth consecutive medal.

“And, together with fans from across the country, we will be cheering for Canada’s incredible women’s team as it competes for its seventh consecutive Olympic medal and fifth gold.

“We know that the top Canadian NHL players were excited to wear the Team Canada jersey, and we hope to see them get that opportunity once again in 2026.”

USA Hockey said it will name its squad by mid-January, with the organisation also having to announce a replacement coaching team for the Games.

Mike Sullivan had been due to serve as head coach of the US men's team at Beijing 2022, the same role he holds with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL.

"While USA Hockey is disappointed, we certainly respect the decision of the NHL and NHLPA," a USA Hockey statement read.

"Regardless, we remain excited about the upcoming Olympic Winter Games and look forward to putting a team together that gives us the best chance to win a gold medal in Beijing.

"With the NHL personnel we previously announced as part of our management team and coaching staff no longer available, we’ll shortly be announcing new people to fill those roles. 

"Further, we expect to name our final roster by mid-January."

NHL players missed Pyeongchang 2018, having previously competed in five consecutive Games from Nagano 1998.

The ice hockey competitions at Beijing 2022 are set to run from February 4 to 20 at the Beijing National Indoor Stadium and Wukesong Arena.

Hosts China will be in Group A alongside the United States, Canada and Germany.

The Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark and Russian Olympic Committee make up Group B, with Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Slovakia in Group C.

More follows.