NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr doesn’t believe the NHL will back out of its plan to allow players to return to the Olympics in 2022.
“Assuming the Olympics go forward in the ordinary course, you can always envision scenarios in which something would happen that would change the equation,” Fehr told ESPN on Wednesday. “But I don’t see it. I expect that players will be there, and it will be a dramatic return to the international stage for us.”
The NHL is kicking off its pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season on Jan. 13. The league hopes to award its 2021 Stanley Cup in July, as commissioner Gary Bettman said the goal is to resume a normal cadence for the 2021-22 season — a big one for the league, as it’s the debut for the expansion Seattle team, as well as the first year of a new TV deal in the U.S.
The 2022 Beijing Olympics also are scheduled during the 2021-22 season, which would mean taking a break just four months after puck drops.
In July, the NHL and NHLPA agreed to a collective bargaining agreement extension — which included a new subsection to Article 24 which reads: “Notwithstanding the foregoing, the NHL and the NHLPA commit to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics, subject to negotiation of terms acceptable to each of the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF (and/or IOC).”
That language was viewed as a huge win for the players, who were deeply upset by missing the Pyeongchang Games in 2018. Despite sending players to each Winter Games since 1998, the NHL opted out of an Olympic break in 2018, citing licensing and financial disputes with the IOC, an unfavorable 14-hour time difference to Pyeongchang, as well as disinterest for disrupting its own schedule and risking players getting hurt.
In 2022, that shouldn’t be an issue.
“Absent very unusual circumstances, I expect us to go back to the Olympics,” Fehr said Wednesday.