We were supposed to get NHL players in the Winter Olympics. We were finally going to see Connor McDavid play with Sidney Crosby on Team Canada. Team USA was supposed to be represented by Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane. All of the stars of the sport were supposed to be representing their countries.
Unfortunately, COVID had other ideas and for the second straight Winter Olympics, we will not be getting a best-on-best tournament. Despite that, there should still be fun and intense hockey featuring some former NHL players, stars from the other leagues around the world and future NHL standouts.
Russia is the favorite
The Russians won gold in the 2018 Winter Olympics in similar circumstances, so it’s no surprise to see them installed as the betting favorite again in 2022. Russia is currently +150 to win gold.
In 2018, Russia featured the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Kirill Kaprizov, Igor Shesterkin and Ilya Sorokin. Those players are now either retired or dominating the NHL. However, seven players from Russia’s gold medal-winning team in 2018 will return for this tournament.
No country benefits more from the NHL’s withdrawal than the Russians. Sure, the Russians will be without NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Evgeni Malkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Shesterkin and Artemi Panarin. However, unlike the NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League has allowed its players to participate in the Olympics.
The KHL is widely considered the second-best professional league in the world. The league boasts a collection of former NHL players and draft picks who are looking to continue or revive their careers. Also, a lot of Russian players who could theoretically be good enough for the NHL make the decision to stay home rather than crossing the pond.
NHL fans will be familiar with some players on the Russian roster. Vadim Shipachyov came over to the NHL for a brief second, but eventually returned home after he didn’t like his role on the Vegas Golden Knights. He’s led the KHL in scoring for three straight seasons. Slava Voynov was a very good NHL defenseman before legal troubles got him suspended indefinitely. Nikita Nesterov, Nikita Gusev, Mikhail Grigorenko, Anton Slepyshev and Sergei Plotnikov have all played in the NHL in recent seasons.
Finland, Sweden, Canada expected to compete for medals
In 2018, Canada finished with the bronze medal. If NHL players were allowed to go, they’d certainly be favorites to win gold in 2022.
There will be no McDavid, Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon. Instead, Canada will be relying on the likes of Eric Staal, Josh Ho-Sang and Owen Power. Canada currently has the fourth-best odds to win gold at +650.
The Canadian roster is an interesting mix of promising youngsters and veteran players. Devon Levi, a 20-year-old goaltender at Northeastern, has a good chance of being the starting goaltender for the Canadians. Mason McTavish and Jack McBain are two young forwards who have made the team. Owen Power, the first overall pick of the 2021 NHL draft, will man the blueline for the red and white.
Eighteen of the 23 players on Canada’s roster have some semblance of NHL experience. Some of the more notable names include Eric Staal, David Desharnais, Jason Demers, Josh Ho-Sang and Jordan Weal.
Finland has the second-best odds to win the gold medal at +450. NHL fans will be most familiar with names like Leo Komarov, Valtteri Filppula and Sami Vatanen.
Sweden is always a threat in these international tournaments, and its odds currently sit at +500 to win the gold medal. Magnus Hellberg, Christian Folin, Oscar Fantenberg, Anton Lander, Jacob de la Rose, Carl Klingberg, Joakim Nordstrom, Lucas Wallmark and Marcus Kruger are among the former NHLers playing for the Swedes.
USA is a long shot
While Russia is arguably the team that benefited most from the NHL withdrawing its players, the USA might be the team most negatively impacted. If NHL players were going, the Americans would definitely be in gold medal consideration. Currently, the Americans sit at 15-to-1 to win gold. Those are the sixth-best odds. USA is +275 to medal in men’s hockey.
The USA disappointed in 2018, finishing in seventh place. That roster featured 18 players 30 years or older. It seems like the Americans have done a complete 180 in their roster construction this time. Sixteen players on the 2022 roster are 23 or younger.
Highlighting the list are 2021 second overall pick Matty Beniers and 2020 fifth overall pick Jake Sanderson. Unfortunately, Sanderson has tested positive for COVID and his status for the tournament is in jeopardy. Steven Kampfer and Andy Miele, two other members of the team with prior NHL experience, are also isolating in the Olympic village.
There are not many big names on this American team outside of the promising youngsters, but maybe the hungry youth will be able to surprise.
Gold medal odds
Below are the odds for each country to win gold:
If you want to play it a bit safer, you can bet on a country to finish in the top three. As long as it medals, you will be paid. Below are the odds for each country to medal in men’s hockey: