The NHL has decided to reintegrate into the Olympic fold. During the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018 and Beijing in 2022, the North American ice hockey league chose not to pause its championship for the two-week duration of the Games. The absence of an agreement among stakeholders was the reason for this decision during the South Korean Games, while the COVID-19 pandemic led to a cautious approach for the Games in China.
As a result, top players were not permitted to join their national teams, ending a 20-year tradition. The United States' early eliminations in the quarterfinals at PyeongChang and Beijing may have influenced the NHL's change in stance. This Friday, ahead of its All-Star Game in Toronto, the NHL ended the suspense and announced that players will be released for the Winter Olympics scheduled in 2026 in Milan-Cortina.
This decision will also apply to the 2030 Games, likely to be held in the French Alps. The players, including Connor McDavid, expressed their desire to represent their countries at the Olympics. McDavid stated, "I've spoken a lot about this. I think it's important for ice hockey as we try to grow it internationally. I think it's a good thing." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman assured that the decision was "a recognition of the importance of the Olympics to the players" and that "it was the right thing to do."
Beyond allowing its players to return to the Winter Olympics, the NHL announced that it would replace its 2025 All-Star Game with a "4 Nations Face-Off" tournament. This event will feature teams from Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Finland, played in an American and a Canadian city. This move is likely a precursor to the return of the "World Cup of Hockey" in 2028, alternating with the Olympic tournament in even-numbered years.