NHL players will be returning to the Winter Olympics for the 2026 and 2030 tournaments, the league announced on Friday as part of a joint agreement with the NHL Players' Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee.
Speaking to reporters during NHL All-Star Weekend in Toronto, commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed that players will be allowed to participate for the first time since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“We know how important international competition is to our players,” Bettman said.
The 2026 Games will take place in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, while the IOC will announce the 2030 host country in July.
NHL back to Olympics a long time coming
NHL players participated in five straight Winter Olympics from 1998 to 2014, but concerns over marketing, insurance, travel costs, and player injuries prevented the league, the NHLPA, the IIHF, and the IOC from finalizing an agreement to continue for 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As part of the NHL and NHLPA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2020 the two sides agreed to green light participation for the 2022 and 2026 tournaments, pending an agreement with all parties, including the IIHF and IOC.
Six weeks before the 2022 Beijing Games, however, the NHL and NHLPA changed course. The COVID-19 pandemic was cited as the main reason for backing out as the league was forced to cancel 50 regular-season games at that point due to the coronavirus.
2026 men's tournament field nearly set
Nine countries have already qualified on the men’s side due to their place in the IIHF World Rankings following the 2023 World Championships.
Canada, Finland, Russia, United States, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Czechia, and Italy (hosts) are in. The final three spots will be determined through four rounds of qualification that will begin on Feb. 8 and end on Sept. 1.
Olympic results with NHL participation
1998: Czech Republic (gold), Russia (silver), Finland (bronze)2002: Canada, U.S., Russia2006: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic2010: Canada, U.S., Finland2014: Canada, Sweden, Finland
NHL adds four-nation international tournament for 2025
As part of his midseason state of the league, Bettman also announced that Canada, Finland, Sweden, and the United States will take part in a tournament to be hosted in Montreal and Boston in Feb. 2025.
This will mark the first time that NHL players have participated in a "best-on-best" tournament since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
This type of NHL/NHLPA-backed tournament has been in the works for years. The league has attempted to stage a follow up to the 2016 World Cup but various issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns over disrupting the regular-season schedule, and political issues around the world (see: Russia) prevented discussions from being advanced.
Russia and Belarus have been banned from competing in tournaments by the IIHF through 2024 and the NHL severed all business ties with Russia following the country's invasion of Ukraine. A decision still has to be made if both countries will be able to compete in future IIHF-sanctioned events.
The NHL and NHLPA have aimed to hammer out an international schedule that featured Olympic participation and a World Cup every two years. There is hope another World Cup will take place in 2028.