NHL Notebook: Sidney Crosby knows Olympic participation no sure thing

·6 min read

Sidney Crosby owns two Olympic gold medals.

The captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins — and the Canadian men's hockey team — is preparing as if he'll be battling to secure a third in less than three months.

Crosby, however, also knows the NHL's participation at the Beijing Games remains far from certain.

"From my experience with this stuff, I try not to follow it too day-to-day," he told reporters over the weekend in Toronto. "It's a lot of different storylines, and a lot of different things could happen."

What's happened most recently is the league was forced to postpone three Ottawa Senators' games because of a COVID-19 outbreak that impacted 10 players and an associate coach. The New York Islanders, meanwhile, currently have seven players in the league's protocol, but as it stands are continuing with their schedule.

The league and NHL Players' Association gave themselves an out in their deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation — originally announced in September — to participate at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

"The agreement allows for the possibility of a later decision to withdraw in the event evolving COVID conditions are deemed by the NHL/NHLPA to render participation by NHL players to be impractical or unsafe," the joint statement read.

Common sense suggests there would need to be many more cancellations for the NHL to pull the plug on Beijing, but a Jan. 10 deadline looms large.

The players have been adamant in their desire to go to China. It was a big part of negotiations for an extension to the collective bargaining agreement that allowed the NHL to resume its pandemic-delayed season in the summer of 2020.

Owners, meanwhile, have been lukewarm on the Olympics even under ideal health and safety conditions — the league skipped the 2018 event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, entirely — for a number of reasons, including the disruption to the NHL calendar.

And while talk of a Canadian boycott in 2022 died down after China released Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig in September following nearly three years of detention when the U.S. dropped its extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, calls have grown louder.

Human rights remain an overarching concern, as does the status of tennis player Peng Shuai, who recently disappeared for nearly three weeks after accusing a senior Chinese official of sexual assault.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Washington, D.C., last week included a meeting with Joe Biden where the U.S. president confirmed he's considering a diplomatic boycott.

"There are an awful lot of athletes in Canada and around the world who have been training, focused on this very, very much," Trudeau said. "We're looking for a way to both be able to see them show their capacities and fulfil all the hard work that they've done for many years, while continuing to demonstrate our real concerns with the way the Chinese government has behaved."

The NHL's board of governors are scheduled to meet in Florida next month, and Olympic participation will no doubt be a topic for discussion — especially if there are any more COVID-19 disruptions.

Crosby, meanwhile, will continue to go about his business as if a trip to Beijing, and the chance for a third gold medal, is just over the horizon.

At least until he's told otherwise.

"Everyone feels pretty strongly they'd like to be there, but I try not to think too far ahead and get too caught up in it," said the three-time Stanley Cup champion. "Some of that stuff, you can't control. I'm preparing like we're going.

"That's the best way to look at it."

CROSBY ON OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE

If the NHL does end up in China, there will be plenty of first-time participants.

Crosby's advice to players like Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mitch Marner would be straightforward.

"It's hard to explain," said the 34-year-old. "It's something you have to feel when you get there. It's so unique, not only because you're playing for Team Canada, but just representing your country as a whole and being a part of the bigger athlete community.

"It's a rare opportunity ... just an unbelievable experience."

RED-HOT FLAMES

After missing the playoffs last season, Calgary sat as the top Canadian team based on points percentage heading into Wednesday's action.

Lead by head coach Darryl Sutter's physical, grinding, defensive style, the Flames have a league-best seven shutouts and occupy first in the Western Conference at the 20-game mark for the first time since 1993-94.

Calgary (.725) was followed by the Edmonton Oilers (.722) in fourth and the Toronto Maple Leafs (.675) in eighth.

KADRI ON A HEATER

Anaheim Ducks winger Troy Terry owned the "one of these thing doesn't belong" spot in the top-5 of NHL scoring until being unseated by another unlikely name up alongside Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin — Nazem Kadri.

The Colorado Avalanche centre sat fourth with 23 points in just 15 games heading into Wednesday, tied with Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau (23 points in 20 games).

Kadri has 19 points in his last nine contests, and 12 over his last four, including a one-goal, three-assist performance in Monday's 7-5 victory over Ottawa.

"Right now, his stick is magic," said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar, who's been minus star centre Nathan MacKinnon (lower-body injury) since Nov. 10. "Did I think he was going to go on a heater like this for as long as he has? Probably not.

"But we'll take it."

CAMPBELL ON U.S. OLYMPIC RADAR

Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck and Anaheim Ducks counterpart John Gibson look like locks as the Americans' 1-2 punch in the crease for Beijing.

The No. 3 spot will be interesting to monitor.

Does the U.S. bring youngster Spencer Knight of the Florida Panthers to get him valuable international experience? Or does the brain trust give the nod to Leafs netminder Jack Campbell, who's had a lights-out start to his season?

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said Campbell has definitely turned heads a quarter of the way through the NHL schedule.

"He's had a very good start," Sullivan said. "There's been a number of conversations around the roster. They'll continue to be more conversations moving forward. There are some dates that are fast approaching where we've got to get to certain numbers, and we're going through that process behind the scenes.

"We're well aware that Jack's had a really strong start."

Informed of that praise, Campbell flashed a smile.

"I had no idea, so thanks for letting me know," he replied. "Any time you represent your country, it's such a privilege and it's such an honour.

"We'll see."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton's weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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