The NHL, its Players' Association (NHLPA), and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced the news on Friday (3 September), reaching an agreement after months of discussions for the world's best players to once again set their skates on Olympic ice.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "We understand how passionately NHL Players feel about representing and competing for their countries.
"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."
NHL and NHLPA have Covid veto
At the PyeongChang 2018 Games tournament, won by Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) over Germany in overtime, NHL players were not released by the league due to concerns over travel costs, television timings in North America, and league scheduling.
This time, negotiations have had an added dimension with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The agreement reached between the three parties includes a veto for the NHL and NHLPA if the situation dictates that the league cannot send players.
It "provides the NHL and NHLPA with flexibility to monitor the COVID-19 situation and, ultimately to not send NHL players if the COVID conditions require such," according to a statement from the IIHF.
IIHF President René Fasel said: "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.
"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."
Added NHLPA General Counsel Don Zavelo: "Representing their country in the Olympics is important to the players, even in these uncertain times.
"The players look forward to pulling on their nation's hockey sweater at the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing as they compete for the gold medal."
Top NHL names expected at Beijing 2022
The decision opens up the possibility that many of the NHL's top players will finally get to make their Olympic debut, including the likes of Connor McDavid of Canada, David Pastrnak of Czech Republic, Nikita Kucherov of ROC, Leon Draisaitl of Germany, and Auston Matthews of USA. Others, such as Alexander Ovechkin (ROC) – who was vocal about having to miss the 2018 Games – may be looking at a final Olympic Games.
A total of 12 teams in three groups of four will compete in the men's tournament, including qualifiers Slovakia, Latvia, and Denmark, who booked their tickets just last week.
Group A promises to be big-hitting with both reigning world champions and nine-time Olympic gold medallists Canada and USA involved, alongside Draisaitl's Germany and hosts China.
ROC – the defending champions as the OAR team from 2018 – are the top seeds in Group B, with Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Denmark completing that pool.
Group C, meanwhile, pits Scandinavian rivals Finland and Sweden against Slovakia and Latvia.
The three group winners and the best second-placed team will qualify directly for the quarter-finals, with all eight remaining teams moving on to a qualification playoff game. It is the same format that has been used at each Olympic Winter Games tournament since 2010.
Groups and schedule for Beijing 2022
The men's ice hockey competition at Beijing 2022 is scheduled to start on 9 February 2022.
- Group A: Canada, USA, Germany, China
- Group B: ROC, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
- Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia
The full game schedule is set to be released in the coming weeks.