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Hockey boss expects NHL Olympic decision next month

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -6
Previews - Winter Olympics Day -6

International Ice Hockey Federation President Luc Tardif is optimistic that an announcement will be made by the end of February that the NHL will participate in the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Olympics.

The league did not send its players to the last two Winter Games.

"You can see I’m smiling,” Tardif said at a Friday press conference, according to a press release. “For the first time we are now meeting with all interested parties—the NHL, the NHLPA, the IIHF, the IOC. And I think all the planets are aligned. I will meet with IOC president Thomas Bach in mid-January. I believe we’ll have an announcement before the end of February. And since we are hopeful for the next Olympics, we will try to arrange a commitment for the next two Olympics. There is a common goal to participate.”

NHL players were set to take part in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games until a reversal six weeks before the Opening Ceremony. The NHL and NHLPA cited the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the regular season and canceling 50 games up to that point.

For the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC never came to an agreement.

In both 2018 and 2022, the U.S. roster was made up of collegians, minor leaguers and players in international leagues.

In 2020, the NHL and the NHLPA announced a new collective bargaining agreement that included Olympic participation in 2022 and 2026, at the players’ urging, but there still must be an agreement among the NHL, IOC and IIHF.

The NHL has historically had concerns over Olympic participation, including the risk of player injuries, the league's inability to use the Olympics for marketing due to sponsorship rules and travel costs.

Also Friday, Tardif said that a possible reinstatement of Russia and Belarus into international hockey competition is wholly contingent on the safety of athletes and organizers to run a safe tournament.

Russia and Belarus have been banned from IIHF competitions such as the world championships since shortly after the invasion of Ukraine.

As of late October, the IIHF was keeping Russia's men's hockey team eligible for the 2026 Winter Olympics in case the ban is lifted.