Mar 29, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) tries to skate past Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) in overtime at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday morning, the NHL and NHLPA officially announced that they had reached an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation to send players to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. That means NHLers will be back on the Olympic circuit after the NHL blocked participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

There had been signs pointing toward NHLers returning to the Olympic stage next year, including a framework for player participation worked into the league’s collective bargaining agreement extension last year. On Friday, after months of negotiations, it became official.

“I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics,” IIHF president René Fasel said in a statement. “We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set out for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment.”

Yes, the agreement is good news for fans hoping to see the world’s best players compete on the sport’s biggest international stage, but it may be wise to proceed with cautious excitement. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of the Delta variant, there’s a very real chance that plans can change between now and the Opening Ceremony in February.

In a NHLPA memo sent to players this week, the union outlined various aspects of the 2022 participation agreement — including COVID opt-outs and insurance policies.

  • Players can opt out of Olympic participation without penalty.
  • The NHL and NHLPA have the right to terminate the participation agreement at any time before players leave for the Olympics on February 6.
  • The NHL has the right to terminate participation in the Olympics if COVID forces regular-season game cancellations that cannot be rescheduled outside of the Olympic break.
  • Players will have their NHL contracts insured in the event of an injury at the Olympics, but they will NOT be insured in the event that they contract a COVID-related illness while at the Games. (The IIHF will establish a $5 million fund to help cover lost NHL salaries due to COVID.)
  • It is expected that all players will need to be vaccinated in order to participate in the Olympics, as well as adhere to strict COVID-related protocols (including daily testing) while inside the Olympic bubble.

So, with that in mind, there’s plenty of opportunity for players and the league to opt out of the 2022 Winter Games. It’s safe to assume that both sides will be closely monitoring health and safety data in the months leading up to the scheduled start on February 9.

Twelve countries — Canada, USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Latvia, Denmark and China — will participate in the ice hockey tournament. If the NHL does indeed participate, several league superstars could be making their Olympic debuts in Beijing, including Connor McDavid (Canada), Nathan MacKinnon (Canada), Auston Matthews (USA), David Pastrnak (Czech Republic), Sebastian Aho (Finland), Nikita Kucherov (Russia), Victor Hedman (Sweden) and Leon Draisaitl (Germany).

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