I think by now we’ve all accepted the fact that the NHL pulled their players from participating in the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics. The league will try again for the 2026 Winter Games in Italy, but even that is not a guarantee. This will be the second Olympics in-a-row for the NHL not to be participating in what should be the biggest international tournament on the calendar.
Every four years, the best in the world face each other for a prize in hockey that is just about as big to some, if not bigger, than winning a Stanley Cup. With COVID complications in the NHL this season forcing the pulling of participation, the question now comes around to: why hold the biggest tournament in the middle of the NHL season anyway?
It’s not like the league hasn’t thought of this before. Stopping the season, losing an All-Star game, and the potential for injury in the Olympics that could impact NHL clubs is a lot to ask of the league and part of the reasons that it has been eight years since we’ve seen NHL players at the Olympic Games.
The great summer sport of hockeyhttps://t.co/WWxUM14Hf9
— Yahoo Sports NHL (@YahooSportsNHL) January 3, 2022
Players were adamant about being able to go after missing the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics and even still after having their participation pulled this year, there was still a faction of players that wanted to go and would risk the COVID requirements in China, including Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins, who took to social media:
— Brad Marchand (@Bmarch63) December 28, 2021
But the league has the final say.
We’ve seen summer hockey work before with the World Cup of Hockey. Another version of the international “Best vs. Best” tournament, only put on by the NHL and NHLPA, cutting out the IOC and the IIHF. It has been held in 1996, 2004, and 2016, with the revival in 2016 being a major success with fans. But it wasn’t reinstated for 2018 because of the potential for the 2018 Olympic participation and has not been played since. If you’re asking me, the NHL would be better-off leaving the Men’s Olympic Hockey participation in the Olympics to amateurs and non-NHL players and hosting their own “Best vs Best” tournament in the summer, every two years.
What made the World Cup of Hockey work was that you catch hockey fans right away before the season starts with a major tournament with the best players in the league. You also have some imaginative elements to it with the use of “All-Star” teams like Team Europe and Team North America, the former being one of the major successes of the 2016 tournament. Imagine if a 2022 World Cup of Hockey was played and you could see Team North America with players like Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, Jack and Quinn Hughes, Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, Alexis Lafrenière, Matty Beniers, Spencer Knight, and Shane Wright all together against the top NHL players?
Here’s a look at 2021-22 Blackhawks who could play at a hypothetical Summer 2022 World Cup of Hockey:
• Patrick Kane
• Alex DeBrincat
• Seth Jones
The three locks that would have played with Team USA at the Olympics are all accounted for here again for the 2022 World Cup of Hockey. Kane played for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, while Jones was part of 2016’s Team North America.
• Marc-André Fleury
Fleury may or may not finish the 2021-22 season with the Blackhawks, but he’s on the club now nonetheless. Assuming he plays again in the 2022-23 NHL season, and his current form continues through the rest of this season, there’s no doubt Fleury would be a part of Team Canada here. He last played for Canada in an international tournament in 2010 as the third goaltender on the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal-winning team, but he did not play in a game that year.
• Dominik Kubalík
Same as Fleury, Kubalík may or may not finish the year with the Blackhawks, but he’s good enough to be in the mix for a Czech team that is highlighted by David Pastrňák, Ondrej Palat, and Tomas Hertl.
Team North America (U23 Canada and USA)
• Kirby Dach
• Brandon Hagel
This duo would only make it if the tournament was held before September of 2022, since Hagel turns 24 in August. But with the talent pool in North America of players younger than 23-years-old, there’s a major chance some of the best players could land on Team Canada or Team USA anyway. Dach was Captain of Team Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championships before breaking his wrist and Hagel won a Gold Medal with Canada at the 2021 World Championships last summer.
• Lukas Reichel
• Philipp Kurashev
Team Europe would be made of the best players in the world that don’t come from North America, Finland, Sweden, Russia, or Czechia. Players like Leon Draisaitl, Roman Josi, Anže Kopitar, and Tomas Tatar would highlight this roster like it did in 2016, but Reichel has had ample opportunity to be on Germany’s international rosters for the World Junior Championships and World Championships in recent years, but missed both World Junior tournaments because of COVID issues. With Tim Stützle, Nikolaj Ehlers, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Timo Miere, and Kevin Fiala in the mix as well, Kurashev is a long-shot, but worth mentioning anyway.
By leaving the Olympics to the amateurs/non-NHL players, you keep the Olympics a celebration of amateur athletics and you give some of the best young players in the world the opportunity to play on that stage. You might even be giving the U.S. their best chance to win an Olympic Gold Medal on the Men’s side, since their last Gold came during the 1980 Winter Olympics with the famed “Miracle on Ice” team, which was made of college players.
While it’s unlikely that this will be the case in the short-term, with the NHL not participating in the 2022 Olympics, there could be a drop in enthusiasm from a younger generation of NHL players to play in the Games, making the appeal of the World Cup of Hockey greater as the “Best vs. Best” tournament to play for.