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Olympics top NHL agenda at board of governors’ meeting in Florida

NHL and NHLPA have until Jan. 10 to pull the plug if COVID-19 makes trip ‘impractical or unsafe’
Canada forward Sidney Crosby and Sweden defenceman Johnny Oduya rub shoulders during first period men’s gold medal final hockey action at the Sochi Winter Olympics Sunday, February 23, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The Beijing Olympics open in less than 60 days.

And the NHL has just over a month to decide if it will be there.

The league and the NHL Players’ Association came to a long-awaited agreement in September with the International Ice Hockey Federation to take part in the 2022 Winter Games after skipping the showcase four years ago when South Korea hosted.

But there’s a well-documented out clause that gives the NHL and NHLPA until Jan. 10 to pull the plug if COVID-19 conditions are deemed “impractical or unsafe” by either party.

Olympic participation and next steps in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault scandal will no doubt be topics of discussion when the league’s board of governors gather in Manalapan, Fla., for their annual meeting Thursday and Friday.

Owners have always been lukewarm about the Games — even under ideal circumstances — because of schedule disruption, potential for injuries, and a host of other reasons.

The players, however, have been adamant about their desire to go to China. The league first took part in an Olympics in 1998, and went to five straight before declining in 2018.

But it remains far from a sure thing in 2022.

The NHL has seen a rise in COVID-19 disruptions over the last month, including the postponement of five games and a significant rise in the number of players placed into the league’s virus protocol.

There are also plenty of unknowns with the Omicron variant, and there’s little doubt NHLers will be under a strict lockdown when in China. It’s also unclear what happens if a player tests positive at the Olympics, but the mandatory quarantine could be as long as three weeks.

With all that in mind, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner, who was a lock for Sweden’s roster, became the first NHLer to opt out of the Games earlier this week.

“Reality is that what (has) been said about how it’s going to be is not ideal for my mental health,” Lehner posted in a series of tweets. “My well-being (has to) come first and being locked down and not knowing what happens if you test positive is (too) much of a risk for me.

“Hope people understand.”

Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon, who like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews missed out on sport’s biggest stage in 2018, is hopeful the league goes.

But he also knows it’s difficult to read the tea leaves.

“I try to stay away from the news, mostly,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

There should, at the very least, be a little more clarity later this week.

—Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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