STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The expected absence of NHL players from the Winter Olympics in Beijing may rob fans of the chance to see some of the game’s greats, but Sweden’s former Olympic and Stanley Cup champion Hakan Loob says it opens up a big chance for smaller nations.
The NHL is expected to announce that players from the world’s biggest and most lucrative league will not take part in the 2022 Games due to concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular the spread of the Omicron variant.
“It is of course sad that the NHL players won’t be allowed to go, partially for themselves because the Olympics is such a great experience on and off the ice, but also in terms of competition because we want the best to play each other,” said Loob, who won Olympic gold with Sweden in 1994.
The 61-year-old former winger also won the Stanley Cup during a six-year spell with the Calgary Flames, and in 2018 he took on a role as European scout for the club.
“That the NHL would choose this way (not releasing the players) can be understandable if you see it from their business perspective, which they give very high priority to,” he explained.
“There are 82 rounds of games to be played and all of their marketing deals are built on that.”
Loob’s 1994 side is one of only two Swedish teams that have won Olympic gold, and he believes that the lack of NHL players will increase the chances for smaller nations in Beijing.
“I don’t think Sweden’s chances are any bigger or smaller, they have a big chance of winning the gold regardless,” he said.
“It will be the so-called smaller hockey nations, like (silver medallists) Germany in 2018, who will see their chances increased by the NHL players not being there.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Christian Radnedge)