Count veteran St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko among the NHL players who are disappointed about not being able to play in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
After initially agreeing to send its players to the Winter Games in Beijing, China, the NHL reversed course last week, citing the need to make up games postponed due to COVID-19 during a scheduled three-week break in February. While the decision gives the league a better chance to complete an 82-game season for the first time since 2018-19, it's bittersweet for veterans such as Tarasenko, who went into the season believing they'd be able to represent their country on an international stage.
When asked if he would've gone to Beijing if given the choice, the Russian winger left no doubt about his thoughts on the issue.
"Of course," Tarasenko said. "I think you'd be surprised how many people would choose to go."
Tarasenko said his thoughts align with Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who wrote in a statement released to Twitter on Tuesday that even though the NHL will no longer pause its season to accommodate Olympic participation, it still should've allowed players to leave their teams and compete in Beijing if they so chose. Marchand suggested that the league had an obligation to honor its agreement to allow players to participate, which was a key element of the NHL and NHLPA's extension of the collective bargaining agreement in July 2020. He added that he would not have a problem with forfeiting his pay for games missed if he was allowed to compete in the Olympics.
"They promised us we can go this year and they took it away," Tarasenko said. "We're still playing here. With all the restrictions, all the rules, I don't really understand the point (of) people deciding for you."
Tarasenko detailed the heartbreak that many NHL players felt when they found out they wouldn't be able to go to Beijing: "There's way too many players who are dreaming about the Olympics growing up, like in any country in the world, whether it's Canada or U.S. or Russia or Finland or any other country. You're kind of preparing for it, you're dreaming about being named to the roster, and then they just say you can't go."
While NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said last week that he expects NHL players to participate in the 2026 Winter Games in Italy, the upcoming Olympics may have represented Tarasenko's best opportunity to star on the international stage. He was just 22 when he represented the host country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and he recorded just one assist in five games. He'll be 34 the next time he has an opportunity to compete for a gold medal.
Tarasenko, who is the Blues' co-leader in points with 29 in 31 games, is disappointed to miss out on an opportunity that he may not receive again, but he appears ready to move past it and deal with the circumstances as the team returns to action Wednesday.
"I guess it's business," Tarasenko said, "and we'll just follow what the rules are."