NHL-League to schedule break in season for Beijing Olympics - report

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FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask takes a photo of Olympic Ring promoting Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2021.

(Reuters) - The NHL has not yet announced whether it will send its players to next year's Beijing Olympics but the schedule for the 2021-22 season will include a break to accommodate participation in the Winter Games, according to an ESPN https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/31843898/nhl-schedule-break-2022-winter-olympics-player-participation-not-yet-guaranteed report on Monday.

The article, which cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the schedule being released this week, said the break will run from Feb. 5-22 and include a caveat that NHL participation in Beijing is not yet guaranteed.

The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4 while preliminary round play of the men's ice hockey tournament, which would be one of the marquee events of the Winter Games if NHL players participate, starts on Feb. 9.

The NHL has previously said it was preparing two versions of the schedule -- one that includes an Olympic break and one that does not -- pending a resolution to talks with the International Olympic Committee and the NHL Players' Association.

During the last month the NHL has cast doubt on whether the league will send its most valuable assets to Beijing, citing a tightening time frame to sort out concerns that include COVID-19-related insurance issues.

"We have real concerns about whether or not it's sensible to be participating," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said last month ahead of the Stanley Cup Final.

"We're already past the time that we hoped this would be resolved."

The NHL, unhappy over the prospect of interrupting a regular season to send their most valuable assets overseas where they could get hurt, ended a run of five consecutive Winter Olympics when it decided not to go to Pyeongchang in 2018.

That decision by the NHL, which had sought major concessions from the IOC comparable to that of an Olympic top sponsor, came despite clear signs from several of the world's best players that they wanted to go.

Some owners of NHL teams have lost enthusiasm for the Olympics given the chance players return to NHL competition injured or tired, thereby hurting their teams chances in the push towards that year's Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the league and players, as part of the extension to the collective bargaining agreement reached last year, agreed to go to the 2022 and 2026 Olympics if they could reach an agreement with the IOC.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)