According to Johnston’s report, the announcement of the return to the 2026 Olympics in Milan will coincide with the official unveiling of the long-rumored Four Nations Tournament. The tournament is expected to take place in February 2025 and will feature national teams from the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland.
The collective moves are part of the NHL’s push to expand to the international stage. During the annual Board of Governors meeting in December, league commissioner Gary Bettman teased the league’s desire to return to international play. His grand vision for international best-on-best play begins with the Four Nations tournament taking place over “multiple locations” internationally, serving as an appetizer for the 2026 Olympic Games. That would then be followed up by the re-launch of the Hockey World Cup in 2028, with the plan to alternate the World Cup and Olympics every two years.
The NHL has previously had a mixed relationship with the Olympics. The league was unable to strike a deal with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) to participate in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. That was the first time the NHL had missed the games since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. While it was supposed to be a one-off miss, the NHL pulled out of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There were some inklings of doubt that the NHL would even participate in 2026. When initially teasing his international roadmap, Bettman mentioned that discussions between the NHL Player’s Association and the IIHF were ongoing to “wrestle the arrangement for the Olympics to the ground.” The commissioner said that construction had not begun on the arena needed for the 2026 Games, calling it a “matter of concern.” However, Bettman also emphasized the importance of international play to the league’s players.
The league’s push for global play will hopefully keep the NHL’s players in the game for the foreseeable future.
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