The NHL’s long-awaited return to the Winter Olympics ended on Wednesday after the league announced that players will no longer be able to attend the Games in Beijing after an uptick in COVID-19 cases this month caused the NHL to postpone 50 regular-season games.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement that the participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics "is no longer feasible" after a league-wide outbreak has forced the NHL to briefly postpone the season.
"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," Bettman’s statement read.
"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 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."
Bettman said that the weeks during which the players would have been competing in Beijing will now be used to reschedule the 50 games which were postponed – 32 which were canceled in the last week alone.
"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 NHL has shut down nine teams in total because of outbreaks and announced on Sunday that cross-border games would be postponed through the holiday break because of "the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions."
In total, 55 games were postponed during last year’s shortened season but all were made up with the 56-game schedule.
The last time NHL players participated in the Games was in 2014 in Sochi. Bettman said the league looks forward to resuming participation in 2026.