TORONTO — The NHL is returning to the Winter Olympics in 2026, with a scaled-down best-on-best tournament as an appetizer next year.
While the NHL celebrated an announcement Friday signaling a return to best-on-best international competitions for the first time since 2016, the sexual assault scandal involving members of Canada’s 2018 world junior championship team continues to be an issue for Avalanche star defenseman Cale Makar.
Makar has no issues for the 2025 NHL 4 Nations Face-Off, and should, health permitting, be a lock to play for Canada. His status for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, because of his association with the 2018 WJC team, remains to be determined.
The new event, which the NHL hopes is a precursor to a full-scale World Cup in 2028 and 2032, will feature the United States, Canada, Finland and Sweden in early 2025. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there wasn’t time to put together a complete World Cup with all of the typical participants, so the league decided a smaller tournament with just the four countries was better than waiting until 2028.
“This tournament is our tournament,” NHL commissioner Bill Daly said. “It will be our eligibility rules, not Hockey Canada’s.”
The only eligibility rules are players must be under an NHL contract for the 2024-25 season and on an NHL roster as of Dec. 2, 2024. That means that Makar is eligible.
“Yeah, hopefully I get to be a part of that. That would be awesome,” Makar said. “I think that’s really cool what they are doing. I think for us, especially the past few years, there haven’t been any top tournaments other the world championships. I think a lot of guys are really excited.”
Hockey Canada announced in March 2023 that all members of that 2018 team were ineligible to play for Canada at international competitions, pending an investigation into an alleged incident at an event in London, Ontario, celebrating their gold-medal victory at the tournament earlier that year.
A woman alleged in a civil lawsuit that eight players were involved in the sexual assault. The lawsuit was dropped after Hockey Canada settled with the woman, but London police have reportedly charged five players with sexual assault. Makar reiterated Thursday that he was not involved in the alleged incident.
Makar was not allowed to play at the 2023 World Championships after the Avalanche were eliminated from the playoffs last season. Hockey Canada announced in November that its investigation had concluded, but there was an appeal of the findings and the 2018 WJC players’ status had not changed.
“Pending the completion of the appeal process, all players from the 2018 National Junior Team remain suspended by Hockey Canada and are currently ineligible to play, coach, officiate or volunteer with Hockey Canada-sanctioned programs,” Hockey Canada said in a Nov. 14 statement.
Hockey Canada has not offered a timeline for when the appeal process will be complete.
“I can’t do anything about it,” Makar said. “It is what it is at the moment. I can’t worry about that. I’ve been through it after this last season, not being able to go to world championships. At the end of the day, it’s definitely not something at the forefront of my mind. That will handle itself.”
The announcement does mean that an entire generation of NHL players, including Avs stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, will have the chance to represent their countries in a best-on-best tournament at the senior level for the first time. The last one was the World Cup in 2016, when MacKinnon played for a 23-and-under team of players from Canada and the United States.
NHL players haven’t been to the Winter Olympics since 2014, when Canada won for a second straight time.
“I’d love to go. I grew up idolizing Team Canada,” MacKinnon said. “I’ve missed, or we’ve all missed two now, so definitely want to get one in or even a couple before I retire. We have the best player in the league with Connor (McDavid). Hopefully get another one with Sid (Crosby). I think he’s ageless, so I’d love to play with him and try to win with him would be special.”
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