NHL players will not go to China for Olympics due to virus concerns
Faced with concerns about COVID-19 and the prospect of long quarantine periods if players tested positive during the Olympics, the NHL decided to withdraw from the Beijing Games.
The league and its players’ association reached an agreement on Tuesday, multiple media reported, with an official NHL announcement expected on Wednesday.
Participation in the Beijing 2022 Games, scheduled for February 4 to 20, and the 2026 Olympic Games in Italy were negotiated in the collective agreement after the NHL players did not make it to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, in South Korea. which provided for a bailout if there was a “significant disruption of the season” due to COVID-19.
Chinese officials said Olympians who tested positive in Beijing could face quarantines of up to five weeks at government facilities.
The United States used American pros playing in Europe and college players for the 2018 Games, which were won by the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR). Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov, who was playing in the Continental Hockey League at the time, scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Germany.
Wild general manager Bill Guerin was to become general manager of the United States team if any NHL players participated. Instead, the United States will use a fallback plan and field a team similar to 2018, where future Wild forwards Ryan Donato and Jordan Greenway were among the top players. USA Hockey director John Vanbiesbrouck, not Guerin, would likely lead the selection process for this team. Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan is expected to coach the United States, but that could change, too.
Kaprizov is said to have been part of the OAR team again. Three other Wild players – Kevin Fiala (Switzerland), Jonas Brodin (Sweden) and Joel Eriksson Ek (Sweden) – are also among their country’s top players. Nico Sturm was a strong contender for the German squad, although he sounded the alarm last week about the Games.
“Just with the way things are going, I don’t see how,” Sturm said Thursday. “I would obviously love to go, but I also have to be realistic about that. I’m not going to hope too much… Most guys think the same. They would love to go, but it seems so complicated to go. the moment that it is difficult to see that this will happen. “
Asked on Monday about the possibility of having a non-NHL Olympics, Fiala said: “How disappointing? Very. It would be my first time. So you want to go to the Olympics and represent your country.”
The United States’ “rescue” Olympic team would likely include Minnesotans, especially if the roster is littered with college players. However, whether college kids would be willing to risk a long quarantine, that’s another question.
The CBC predicted that a Canadian non-NHL roster would include former Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, a three-time all-star now on a trial contract with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, and former Wild center Eric Fehr, who plays in La Suisse.
The NHL had until Jan. 10 to stay home without financial penalty. The league has scheduled a break from February 6 to 22 for the Olympics. Postponed matches may be scheduled during this time, but many events and sites reserved in the arenas may not be available. A long hiatus after the February 5 All-Star Game in Vegas is still likely.
The regular season was scheduled to end on April 30, but 50 games have been postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks in teams, so it could go on for longer.
The NHL begins its Christmas break on Wednesday to limit the spread of the coronavirus in teams. All NHL facilities will be closed for four days, Wednesday through Christmas Day. There were 131 NHL players in league protocols Tuesday morning.
The Wild are scheduled to resume training on Dec. 26 and then fly to Winnipeg for a Dec. 27 game against the Jets. This game would appear to be in jeopardy, especially with the Wild preparing for the league’s flagship event, the New Year’s Day Winter Classic at Target Field against the Blues.
Editor-in-chief Sarah McLellan contributed to this story.