The NHL and NHLPA’s four-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) extension reportedly will include a possibility for NHL players to return to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China in 2022 and Milan, Italy in 2026. NHL players were made available for the event for five straight games prior to the 2018 games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The NHLPA executive board approved the tentative agreement on Tuesday. Voting opened for the players on Wednesday, the results of which will be announced on Friday. A simple majority vote among all NHL players will pass the new agreement to the NHL’s board of governors. A two-thirds vote is needed to approve the CBA.
Of course, there are still hurdles to making the return a reality, as the league will have to negotiate with both the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation to a resolve outstanding issues that kept the league from allowing players into the 2018 games: namely, marketing conflicts, health insurance and travel costs.
Being open to the possibility might not be enough for players like Sharks defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who repeatedly spoke out against the NHL’s decision in 2017, and mocked the league’s attempt to use the Olympics as leverage in the last CBA negotiations.
“I started laughing,” he said to reporters at the time. “That’s not negotiating. It’s not.”
“As an athlete, it’s your right to go to the Olympics. I don’t know if [the report] is true. I hope it’s not. That’s not the way you negotiate things. But, if that is true, all of a sudden they don’t mind having a two-week break in the NHL for a three-year collective bargaining agreement.”
It’s also not a guarantee Vlasic gets the call for Team Canada in 2022, and even less so in 2026. Though the veteran is under contract with the Sharks through 2026, there are around 220 roster spots for defensemen in the NHL (give or take 40 or so) and seven for Team Canada. Vlasic isn’t prime Vlasic anymore and it’d be a miracle if he returns to prime Vlasic after age 35, which is exactly how old he’ll be when the Winter Games roll around again.
He admitted this himself, in an open letter to the league in 2017:
“If Gary Bettman tells me that the NHL isn’t going this time, the next time, in 2022, I’ll be 35 years old. Who says that I will be chosen? I hope so, but there will certainly be good young players who will be pressing. And in 2026, I’ll be 39, short of a miracle, it’ll be practically impossible for me to make it.
“I’m not taking this stance solely for myself. Hockey careers are so short that it’s very possible the absence of the NHL in Pyeongchang removes any chance for certain guys to play in the Olympics, simply because this creates an eight-year gap between two participations. For a professional hockey player, eight years is too long.”
Which explains why he was almost willing to get arrested in order to go to the Olympics in 2018.
“I don’t think it would have gone that far, but it’s a possibility,” Vlasic told Ross McKeon at the time.
Again, from the letter, Vlasic said, “If NHL players don’t end up going to Pyeongchang, I will spend the rest of my career (I have always wanted to play until I am 40, so the next 10 years) feeling frustration and hatred towards the NHL.”