NHL stars return for Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics after missing PyeongChang
NHL stars are set to return to Olympic ice hockey at Beijing next February after being forced to miss the 2018 Winter Games, it was revealed on Friday.
An agreement was struck after months of discussions between the NHL, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
At the time of players being barred from competing at PyeongChang three years ago, it was reported the main sticking points were the cost of insuring and transporting players while on Olympic duty.
The International Olympic Committee said, in announcing the return of elite stars from the NHL, that it was "travel costs, television timings in North America, and league scheduling" that had prevented their participation last time out.
Full details of the new deal that will allow NHL stars to travel to China have yet to be disclosed, and players could yet be prevented from travelling if COVID-19 circumstances concern the league.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries.
"We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage."
IIHF president Rene Fasel hailed the commitment, saying: "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.
"We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment."
Players from the NHL had previously featured at each Games from Nagano 1998 through to Sochi 2014, before their absence was keenly felt in South Korea. The Winter Olympics ice hockey programme in 2022 is due to run from February 3-20, with the NHL having cleared a block in its season to allow for stars to compete.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) indicated in a statement that any COVID-19 doubts could mean there is a change to their stance further down the line.
The statement read: "The agreement allows for the possibility of a later decision to withdraw in the event evolving COVID conditions are deemed by the NHL/NHLPA to render participation by NHL players to be impractical or unsafe."
With Canada and the United States hamstrung by having to field weakened teams in PyeongChang, it was the Olympic Athletes from Russia team who took gold in the men's final, beating Germany after overtime. Canada won bronze, with the United States exiting in the quarter-finals.
The 2021-22 NHL regular season is due to run from October 12 to April 29.