According to Pierre LeBrun, the proposed Collective Bargaining Agreement features NHL participation in the 2022 and 2026 Olympics, barring negotiations with the International Olympic Committee.
Of course, the NHL and the IOC have a tricky relationship, so the league stating an intent to play in the Olympics doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a guarantee, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
If NHL players do go to Beijing in 2022, the Leafs will certainly be well represented. It’ll be our first chance to see Toronto’s young core participate in international hockey’s largest stage, which is something incredibly exciting to look forward to.
Auston Matthews will have his first chance to represent the United States at the Olympics in 2022. It’ll be an interesting group for the USA, as a new generation of American star players like Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski, Matt Tkachuk, and Quinn Hughes will be forming the team’s core.
I can’t see any other Leafs other than Matthews representing the United States come 2022. Justin Holl isn’t going to crack the blueline and Jack Campbell could feasibly be in the running for a third-string goaltender role. The other interesting name to watch is Nick Robertson. If he hits the ground running quickly in the NHL, the Leafs’ second-round pick from 2019 could nudge his way into the conversation.
I took a look at what Team Canada’s roster could look like in 2022, and it featured John Tavares and Mitch Marner playing on a line together and Morgan Rielly playing on the team’s second pairing.
Tavares played for Canada at the 2014 Olympics but got injured in a game against Latvia, which ultimately derailed his tournament and season in the NHL. Though he’s technically a Gold Medal winner already, the 2022 tournament will give Tavares another chance to play through the whole tournament.
Marner seems like a pretty easy choice given his chemistry with Tavares and the fact that he’s one of Canada’s best natural wingers available. Rielly isn’t a shoo-in, but he’s a pretty good bet to crack Canada’s blueline at this point.
William Nylander will undoubtedly represent Sweden in 2022. He’s been incredible for Sweden at the international level, posting 32 points in 18 career games at the World Hockey Championships.
Beyond Nylander, it’s unlikely we’ll see any other Leafs suiting up for Sweden. Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren could be there come 2026, but the Swedes boast too many quality, veteran defencemen for either of the Leafs’ top prospects to crack the team in 2022. Andreas Johnsson could also be in the mix depending on how he rebounds from knee surgery.
It’s reasonable to assume that all of the Leafs’ Big Four of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares will represent their respective countries if the NHL participates in the 2022 Olympics. Beyond them, there’s also a handful of depth players who should be headed to Beijing.
Kasperi Kapanen has plenty of experience representing Finland at the international level. He was a key part of Finland’s gold medal win at the 2016 World Juniors and he also played for his country at the 2018 World Hockey Championships. He’s pretty much an automatic to be a part of Finland’s Olympic roster. Mikko Lehtonen, Toronto’s big KHL splash, should also be part of Finland’s blueline.
Another one that seems likely but isn’t quite as automatic is Ilya Mikheyev. Though he never represented Russia at the World Juniors, the late-bloomer Mikheyev played on Russia’s World Hockey Championships team in 2018. His profile has only risen since his strong rookie season in North America.
Slovakia and Denmark haven’t yet qualified for the tournament, but, if they do, Martin Marincin and Freddy Andersen will be on those teams. Denis Malgin is also a good bet to represent Switzerland.
Of course, we don’t know if any of these players will be Leafs by the time the 2022 Olympics roll around. But, even with just the Big Four, the Leafs will be well represented at the Games.