Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has yet to play for Canada in the Olympics and will likely have to wait another four years for the opportunity.
The NHL and its players' association have reportedly come to an agreement not to participate in the upcoming Beijing Winter Games. Several teams have shut down as they deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, forcing the postponement of 50 games ahead of the Christmas break, and strict quarantine protocols should they test positive during the Olympics also has many players concerned.
Stamkos was a reserve player for the 2010 Canadian squad and was named to the 2014 roster, however, he was forced to miss the Sochi Winter Games due to a broken leg.
The 31-year-old Stamkos, who has won back-to-back Stanley Cup titles with the Lightning, called it a "disappointing" decision when speaking to reporters Tuesday.
“You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I’ve been able to accomplish that," Stamkos said. "You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That’s something I probably won’t have a chance to do now.”
Lightning teammate Victor Hedman also has yet to play in the Winter Games and is "sad" he isn't going to suit up for Sweden. The 2018 Norris Trophy winner said the Lightning players will instead continue to focus on winning a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
Sidney Crosby scored the "golden goal" for Canada in 2010 and collected another gold medal in 2014. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain said the decision not to go is a difficult one for him to wrap his head around after believing they would have the chance to return this time.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of two. I definitely feel for the guys who have missed numerous opportunities," Crosby said. "It’s not something where it’s the next year (or) you push it a couple months.
"These are opportunities and experiences of a lifetime that you don’t get very many of as an athlete and you might only get one. It just might happen to fall in your window and if that doesn’t work out it’s unfortunate."
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was likely in line to start in net for the Americans and the 2020 Vezina Trophy winner reflected on the fact he'll be 32 years old when the next Winter Games roll around.
"I know I'll still be playing my best hockey, but we'll see if it's the same story," Hellebuyck said. "It was going to be an awesome opportunity to play, but I guess that's just what we have to deal with."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who captured gold for Canada in 2010 and 2014, held an altruistic view that participating "would have been a really great thing for our game" although he believes the decision not to play is "the right way to go about it."
Patrick Kane, a two-time Olympian who earned silver for the U.S. in 2010, acknowledged it wouldn't have been the same experience as athletes are expected to be restricted to a bubble during their stay in Beijing.
NHL players did not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics with the Olympic Athletes from Russia winning gold and Canada, consisting mostly of players who competed in Europe, earning bronze.