The NHL’s 2022 Olympic dream dies: ‘It’s going to hurt for a while’

Faizal Khamisa & Frank Seravalli discuss the decision for NHL players to skip the Olympics, how the NHL will sort out 50 postponed games and if the Olympics as a whole could be postponed as well.

Judd Apatow wrote this simple yet brilliant scene for his 2007 comedy Knocked Up in which Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen’s characters are slouching on a park bench watching Rudd’s young daughter gleefully chase after freshly blown bubbles, clapping them into soap.

“I wish I liked anything as much as my kid liked bubbles,” Rudd says. “Their smiling faces just point out your inability to enjoy anything.”

“Am I gonna be OK, man?” Rogen says, equally miserable.

“Oh. Who knows?” Rudd responds. “Is anybody OK? I’m not OK. You’re asking the wrong guy.”

The older we get, the shorter our wish list does.

Most grownups can afford their own cozy socks and hardcover novels and V-neck sweaters. Genuine excitement or surprise grows scarce. We’ve walked our share of parks and popped our share of bubbles.

As a connoisseur of hockey, my favourite brand is best-on-best.

I can tell you where I was when Gretzky set up Lemieux for the 6-5 goal in the 1987 Canada Cup.

I can name all the family and friends freaking out in my parents’ den, hugging and screaming and jumping and smearing red and white face-paint on each other when Crosby scored the Golden Goal in 2010.

And I can point out the exact chair in the Sportsnet newsroom where I was sitting and typing when Canada repeated victory in Sochi on that big 2014 ice, turning soccer scores into hockey history.

All I wanted for Christmas was Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby wearing Santa’s colours. McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon on the same line rush. Auston Matthews facing off against John Tavares in a tied medal game. And passionate fans on social media losing their marbles over why Doug Armstrong chose Tom Wilson over Ryan O’Reilly for Team Canada’s 13th forward.

The virus, well, turns out that greedy grinch can infect your dreams too. Hand sanitizer and hospital masks be damned.

As “cancel culture” continues to take on new meaning and we retreat into our holiday caves, the bad (if inevitable) news that the NHL will not participate in February’s Beijing Olympics hits fans like a rock of coal.

Absolutely, it’s the safest choice. Definitely, it’s the smartest business choice for a league scrambling to shoehorn 82 games for everybody and hoist the seasonal schedule back on the rails.

But, man, we could’ve used some Olympic bubbles to get excited about.

As bitter as this day is for fans, the heartbreaks more for the players getting robbed.

Victor Hedman was passed over by Sweden in ’14, his breakout campaign. Speaking safely over Zoom Tuesday, the best defenceman of the past four years said it’s “sad” he won’t be flying to China next month, that he’s wanted this for a long time.

“It’s going to hurt for a while,” Hedman said.

Hedman will be 35 the next time the Winter Games roll around.

The same goes for Tavares — whose surge back into the top 10 in NHL scoring was at least partly driven by his inability to compete in Sochi’s medal rounds for Canada due to injury.

“It’s definitely been a big motivating factor,” Tavares said on the day Maple Leafs training camp opened.

“I would love the opportunity to play a second time. You go there not only as part of a hockey team but part of a bigger team representing your country and all of Canada. You know, I’d like to think there’s another chance in four years again, but as you get older, the chances get a little bit slimmer.”

We think of Jack Eichel, busting his butt in rehab in hopes to heal fast enough to represent Team USA.

We think of Canada’s Steven Stamkos. Like Tavares, he’s been tearing it up this year (34 points in 28 games, good for sixth overall in the Art Ross race). Like Eichel, Stamkos tried valiantly to recover from injury rep his country in Sochi… only to come up a little short.

The 2026 Games in Milano Cortina open on the eve of Stamkos’s 36th birthday. Beijing was his shot.

Matthews, already named to his first Olympic team, calls it “the biggest stage that it gets.” McDavid was eager. Crosby was keen.

“Those athletes have worked their entire life to be in consideration to go to the Olympics. Especially this era of player, basically their whole life that they’ve grown up, the best players — save for 2018 — have been at the Olympics,” Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said. “It’s always been a great event and something they all aspire to when you talk to them.”

We think of our recent phone conversation with Canadian bubble candidate Zach Hyman, and how strongly he responded when asked if he had the slightest reservation of flying to China in a pandemic.

“No,” Hyman said, sharply. “If you have an opportunity like that, you go.”

As the NHL’s positives multiplied over the past week, its Olympic outlook spun negatively. Tavares was “uneasy” about the uncertainty of protocol. McDavid found the idea of a weeks-long quarantine halfway around the globe “unsettling.”

But outside of Swedish goalie Robin Lehner, few stars were saying they wanted out.

U.S. goalie Connor Hellebuyck didn’t hide his glum Tuesday on a call with Winnipeg reporters.

“If the next one’s in four years, I’ll be 32. I know I’ll still be playing my best hockey, but we’ll see if it’s the same story. It was going to be an awesome opportunity to play, but I guess that’s just what we have to deal with,” said Hellebuyck, who does not approve of the pause.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but the feeling for myself, it’s a little overkill. You see leagues like the NFL who are adapting and, I think, doing things right. It sucks. But it’s Christmastime, so we’re enjoying the break. Going to use this as a little mental reset, see family, and enjoy the holidays.”

American sniper Kyle Connor struck a bah humbug tone, too.

“That sucks. Everybody was looking forward to this. We made this part of our collective bargaining agreement, as the players, to try and bring the Olympics back. It just creates so many memories,” Connor said. “If NHL players can’t go, that’s pretty disappointing.”

On the topic of postponing league games, Connor added: “A lot of guys I’ve talked to aren’t even getting that sick.”

As for Crosby, the poster boy of the NHL’s Olympic movement, he used the word “disappointing” more than once, summing up how so many of us feel these days, sour-faced on our park bench, watching bubbles drift into the ether.

“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. You might only get one.”


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