The NHL and NHLPA made the worst-kept secret in hockey official Wednesday morning when they announced their players would not be going to the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
The Florida Panthers, like others around the league, will use the Olympic break to reschedule games postponed this month.
The Panthers have had three games postponed — so far — due to a rash of positive Covid-19 tests with seven officially listed in protocol.
That number could be significantly less (or higher) by now as the team has been away from their complex since Friday morning’s practice.
The Panthers are expected to practice Sunday afternoon in Coral Springs and we will have a pretty good picture of who will be available during that workout.
Florida’s next game is Monday in Raleigh against the Hurricanes.
The scheduling during February may be tricky and all three games may not be able to be made up in that time.
The NHL did have an alternate schedule in its back pocket in case players did not go to Beijing and some games scheduled for later in the season may be moved up to fill the February gap.
The Panthers’ arena in Sunrise seems mostly available during the two weeks the NHL was supposed to be dark as only three concerts are scheduled. Other arenas do not have it so easy what with sharing with NBA or college teams and such.
The scheduling details will come later.
Regardless, the decision that NHL players would not be going to Beijing was made over the weekend when the league decided it had postponed too many games to afford the Olympic shutdown.
College, junior and AHL players could now represent teams in the Olympics.
Florida players such as Sasha Barkov (Finland), Jonathan Huberdeau (Canada), Aaron Ekblad (Canada) and Sergei Bobrovsky (Russia) will not.
The Panthers were also expected to have Anton Lundell (Finland), Patric Hornqvist (Sweden) and others going to Beijing.
“I was really lucky in 2014 when I got to play a couple games in Sochi and that is an experience I will never be able to forget,’’ Barkov said in October.
“Right now, it’s a huge honor for me to represent Finland. NHL players didn’t go last time, so you never take it for granted. Any chance you get to represent Team Finland is a huge honor.”
Yes, it is definitely a disappointment to those players who really wanted to represent their home countries and play for Gold.
As Barkov said, these opportunities do not come very often and for some players, it may never come again.
“Since the CBA extension was reached 17 months ago, NHL players have looked forward with great anticipation to once again participating in the Winter Olympics,’’ NHLPA director Don Fehr said in a statement.
“Until very recently, we seemed to be on a clear path to go to Beijing. Covid-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone. No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games.
“Certainly, the players and hockey fans are quite disappointed. But playing a full 82-game season this year, something the pandemic has prevented us from doing since the 2018-19 season, is very important. We expect that NHL players will return to the Olympics in 2026.”
If, by some odd case, the Beijing Games get pushed back to 2023, NHL players could go then.