NHL players granted permission to play in 2022 Winter Olympics

By , WGR 550 SportsRadio

For the sixth time in the history of the Winter Olympics, National Hockey League players will be granted participation in the Olympic Games.

The NHL and the NHL Players' Association have come to an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on Friday to allow players in the NHL to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries," said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a league statement. "We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best-on-best competition on the Olympic stage."

This will be the first time NHL players will be able to participate in the Olympics since 2014 when the Games were held in Sochi, Russia. Canada came away with the nation's second-straight gold medal in that event, while Sweden ended up coming in second with the silver medal, and Finland defeated the United States for the bronze medal.

NHL players were not granted permission to play in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea that saw the Olympic Athletes from Russia claim the gold, Germany win silver, and Canada settle for the bronze medal.

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According to a memo sent to all NHL players on Friday by NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr, each participating team in the 2022 Olympic Games will announce their rosters by January 2022, with the players traveling to Beijing via private business class charters on Feb. 6, 2022.

The men's ice hockey tournament at the Olympics will start on Wednesday, Feb. 9 with preliminary round action, and will conclude with the medal round games on Sunday, Feb. 20.

While the players were adamant about participating in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the NHL does have the right to withdraw player participation any time before they leave for Beijing. This will also apply in the event of regular season games needing to be cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19-related reasons that cannot be rescheduled within the current regular season schedule.

For players interested in participating for their home countries this February, they must be fully vaccinated in order to play in the Olympic Games. However, if any players wish to opt out of the Winter Games, they can decline their participation at any time without consequence.

While the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are still establishing protocols for the 2022 Winter Olympics, indications are that once the players arrive at the Games, they will be subject to being in a "very tight bubble" with "significant restrictions" that will be enforced. The players will likely be restricted as to who they interact with, where they are able to go within the bubble, as well as daily COVID-19 testing, mask wearing, social distancing, etc.

One big issue in the past for NHL participation in the Olympics has been contract insurance for players that may suffer an injury at the tournament. However, according to the players' memo, all participating players in the tournament will have their contracts insured with the IIHF and/or federations covering the cost in the event of an injury.

In the event that a player contracts COVID-19 while participating in the Olympic Games, the IOC and IIHF have made it clear that no player will be covered by any COVID-19 insurance. The IIHF, though, has agreed to create a $5 million fund to help cover lost NHL salaries due to COVID-19, provided that any player that tested positive strictly followed all COVID-19 protocols in place.

It is unlikely that any players, at this point, will be granted permission to bring any guests with them to the Olympic Games.

Also, the 2022 Olympic Games will be played on regulation NHL-sized rinks, with NHL officials also working the games.

"Representing their country in the Olympics is important to the players, even in these uncertain times," said NHLPA General Counsel, Don Zavelo in a statement. "The players look forward to pulling on their nation's hockey sweater at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as they compete for the gold medal."

Here is how the Groups will look for the 2022 Winter Olympics for the men's ice hockey portion of the tournament:

Group A:
- Canada
- United States
- Germany
- China

Group B:
- Russian Olympic Committee
- Czech Republic
- Switzerland
- Denmark

Group C:
- Finland
- Sweden
- Slovakia
- Latvia

There are a number of current Buffalo Sabres players who are either expected to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, or be in contention to make the roster for their respective country.

As long as he is fully recovered and healthy from a herniated disk in his neck, Sabres captain Jack Eichel is likely to be named to the United States roster and be a top contributor to their roster.

Another top Sabres player that could be named to Sweden's Olympic roster is defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who happened to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics as a 17-year-old ahead of his draft year. Dahlin was the youngest player to compete in the 2018 Olympic Games, and was the youngest player to compete in the Olympic tournament since 1984.

Meanwhile, Zemgus Girgensons recently helped Latvia qualify for the Olympic Games in 2022 after winning in the Olympic Qualification Group E tournament this past Sunday. He will likely be named to their roster again for the Olympics this winter.

Here are some other potential Sabres players who could be named to an Olympic roster come January:

- LW - Victor Olofsson (Sweden)
- C - Arttu Ruotsalainen (Finland)
- D - Henri Jokiharju (Finland)
- G - Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Finland)
- RW - J-J Peterka (Germany)

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