Team Canada men's hockey players pose with their gold medals around their necksTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

FAQ: NHL participation in the Olympic Winter Games

Team Canada fans are buzzing about the news that NHL players are expected to participate in the Olympic Winter Games once again at Milano Cortina 2026, as well as in 2030.

The NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF have agreed to the major principles that will allow player participation and the details will be finalized in the coming months.

Let’s just say, the appetite for a best-on-best competition on Olympic ice could best be described as… voracious. It has been a while since we’ve seen it.

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about NHL participation at the Olympics:

When did NHL players first participate in the Olympic Games?

The IOC approved the participation of professional athletes in Olympic competition as of 1988, but it wasn’t until Nagano 1998 that the NHL agreed to allow its players to go to the Winter Games. Since then, more than 700 NHL players have suited up for their countries.

How many Olympic Winter Games have included NHL players?

Starting with Nagano 1998, there were five straight Olympic Winter Games that included NHL player participation. Those first Games were followed by Salt Lake City 2002Turin 2006Vancouver 2010, and Sochi 2014.

Five Canadian hockey players celebrate a goal
Canada’s Mario Lemieux (66), Paul Kariya (centre), Simon Gagne (21), Steve Yzerman (19) and Rob Blake (4) celebrate Canada’s men’s hockey team gold medal win 5 – 2 over the U.S. to take the gold medal at the Winter Olympics in West Valley City, Utah, Sun., Feb. 24, 2002 . (CP PHOTO/COC/Mike Ridewood)

Why didn’t NHL players participate at PyeongChang 2018 or Beijing 2022?

In 2017, factors such as travel costs, insurance for the players, and marketing rights led to the decision that NHL players would not participate at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games as the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC could not agree to terms. This meant that Team Canada was represented mainly by players from European professional leagues, some of whom did have NHL experience. Those players won the bronze medal, ensuring Canada would be on the men’s hockey podium for the third straight Games.

READ: Olympic hockey bronze a career highlight for many on Team Canada

For Beijing 2022, an agreement had been reached in September 2021 between the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF that would have seen NHL players represent their countries at the Olympic Winter Games. But just a few months later, the NHL and NHLPA informed the IIHF that NHL players would not travel to Beijing. The decision came amidst a COVID-19 outbreak that had forced the league to postpone 50 games to that point in December. That impact on the schedule made it unfeasible for the NHL to shut down for the duration of the Olympic hockey tournament in February. So, once again, Team Canada featured many players from European pro leagues, as well as some fresh-out-of-junior talent and a few players with Olympic experience. They were eliminated by Sweden in the quarterfinals.

What has been Team Canada’s success with NHL players?

After finishing fourth at Nagano 1998, Canada won gold at Salt Lake City 2002 for the country’s first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years. Canada missed the podium at Turin 2006, finishing seventh, but bounced back in a big way at home at Vancouver 2010 where Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal. A second straight gold medal followed at Sochi 2014.

Canada’s Sidney Crosby celebrates his game-winning goal against the United States at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver on Feb. 28, 2010. Team Canada has announced its 25-man roster for the Sochi Olympics, and it’s built around key contributors from the team that won gold four years ago in Vancouver.Crosby is back and likely will be named captain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Who have been the most successful NHL players for Team Canada?

The NHL player with the most Olympic appearances for Canada is Chris Pronger, who played in the first four tournaments from 1998 to 2010, winning two gold medals. He is one of 15 NHL players to win two Olympic gold medals for Canada.

How many Olympic medals does Team Canada have in men’s hockey?

Canada leads the all-time Olympic medal standings in men’s hockey with 16 medals, which includes nine gold, four silver, and three bronze since the sport debuted at the Antwerp 1920 Olympic Games.