NHL finalizes deal to send players to 2022 Olympics

NHL Olympics
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The NHL has announced it will be sending players to the Olympic Games for the first time since 2014.

In an agreement finalized between the NHL, International Ice Hockey Federation, and International Olympic Committee, the 2022 Beijing Games will see a true best-on-best men’s tournament.

“I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics,” said IIHF President René Fasel. “We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set out for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment.”

“We understand how passionately NHL Players feel about representing and competing for their countries,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage.”

As part of the 2020 NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league promised the players’ union it would green light participation at the 2022 and 2026 Olympics should a deal be worked out with the IIHF and IOC. This agreement is only for the 2022 Games in February.

After five consecutive Olympics featuring NHL players, the league decided against sending players to PyeongChang, South Korea for the 2018 Games. Top players in other leagues around the world did play and the tournament ended with the Olympic Athletes from Russia winning gold over Germany in overtime. Canada won bronze while the U.S. finished seventh.

Canada, U.S. grouped together

Following the conclusion of Olympic qualifiers, here are the men’s groups heading to Beijing:

Group A: United States, Canada, Germany China
Group B: Russian Athletes, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

[OLYMPIC ROSTER PROJECTIONS – USA / CANADA]

The U.S. will be coached by Mike Sullivan of the Penguins, while Canada will see Jon Cooper of the Lightning behind their bench. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is leading the management team of the Americans and Doug Armstrong of the Blues is heading up the Canadian group.

A schedule will be released in the coming weeks with the gold medal game taking place Feb. 20. Games will be played on NHL-sized surfaces and feature NHL officials.

This news means that NHL stars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak, Nikita Kucherov, Sebastian Aho, Leon Draisaitl, and Victor Hedman will get their first tastes of Olympic hockey.

“It’d be right up there with winning the Stanley Cup,” McDavid told NBC Sports this week about winning Olympic gold with Canada. “Having the ability to play for your country at the Olympics and a best-on-best tournament, there’s nothing better than that. Being able to do that would be something to check off of the bucket list. And if we’re lucky enough to win a gold medal, [it’d be] so special.”

COVID-19 concerns

There are two parts of the agreement that deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The first is all players participating in the Olympic tournament must be fully vaccinated. Also, if conditions worsen as February approaches, the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt-out of the tournament if regular season games are canceled due to outbreaks and there is no ability to reschedule.

Roster announcements

National teams will submit their “long lists” of players by Oct. 15 with final 25-man rosters announced in January. USA Hockey has previously announced its Olympic teams on the day of the NHL Winter Classic.

There will be no in-person orientation camps.

All player contracts will be insured by the IIHF or their national federations. There will be no insurance to cover COVID-related illnesses. The IIHF will have a $5 million fund to cover any lost salaries for players who contract COVID while at the Games and who were following protocols.

All-Star Game to serve as Olympic send-off

When the NHL released its 2021-22 schedule in July, it was a version that included an Olympic break should an agreement be reached. Now that it’s final, the 2022 NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas on Feb. 4-5 will serve as a send-off for Olympians. The two-week break will last from Feb. 7-22 with NHL regular season games resuming on Feb. 24.

The 2022 Olympic Games from Beijing, China will air on the networks of NBC.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.