It’s official. The NHL and NHLPA announced Friday that they have reached an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) allowing NHL players to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing after they were unable to compete in Pyeongchang.
This news hardly comes as a surprise as the NHL went so far as to include a two-week Olympic break during its regular-season schedule in order to accommodate their inevitable agreement with the IIHF.
With NHL players returning to the Olympics, this could mean that multiple Flyers players will be headed overseas to represent their countries in February. It’s not totally clear who those players will be, but there are several names with fairly strong odds of competing in Beijing.
Might as well start with the captain.
Giroux, still one of the better playmaking forwards in hockey at 33 years old, has never participated in an Olympics and may finally get his chance to help Canada compete for a medal in Beijing. He has represented Canada in three World Championships, however, earning a gold medal in 2015 and a silver in 2017. He also won a gold medal with Canada at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
At this stage in his career, though, it’s fair to wonder if there’s a place for Giroux on Canada’s roster. With numerous other, younger players likely to represent Canada — Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Brayden Point and Mathew Barzal, to name a few — roster spots for aging veterans like Giroux may be in short supply. Still, Giroux is a star player more than capable of making a huge impact for our neighbors up north.
The secret’s out. After winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy in 2020, Couturier is finally receiving the league-wide recognition he deserves as one of the best all-around players in the NHL. The 28-year-old is one of the top defensive forwards in hockey and has become the Flyers’ unquestioned No. 1 center with Giroux now spending most of his time on the wing.
Couturier was born in Arizona and holds dual citizenship between the United States and Canada. However, he has always represented Canada in international competition, and that will continue if he ends up traveling to Beijing. He’s competed in three World Championships for Team Canada, winning a gold medal in 2015, followed by a pair of silvers in 2017 and 2019. He also played for the legendary Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey in 2016.
For the second straight Olympics, Russia will be competing as the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) due to a doping scandal that resulted in the country being banned from participating in Tokyo and Beijing. However, Russian athletes are still able to participate in the Olympics, and Provorov is likely to be one of the NHLers wearing an ROC sweater in February.
Provorov, believe it or not, currently leads all active Russian defensemen in goals with 50 and ranks third in points (159) behind only Dmitry Orlov and Dmitry Kulikov. At 24 years old, Provorov has already competed in a pair of World Championships for Russia, winning a bronze medal in 2017. As one of the top Russian defenders in the NHL, it’s likely he’ll play a significant role for the ROC as the Russians look to defend their gold medal from Pyeongchang.
James van Riemsdyk
As the only player on the Flyers’ roster with Olympic experience, it’s possible JVR could return to Team USA for another chance at gold. JVR played a key role for the Americans in Sochi, posting one goal and six assists in six games. However, the U.S. couldn’t earn a medal in 2014 after suffering an ugly 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.
JVR’s best years are likely behind him, but the 32-year-old remains an effective offensive weapon. He tied Giroux and Jakub Voracek for the team lead in points last season and led the Flyers in both power-play goals and power-play points. After Team USA’s big collapse in Sochi, JVR may be playing with an extra bit of vigor this season with hopes of completing some unfinished business in Beijing.
Ristolainen is likely to make his Olympic debut this winter as one of Finland’s top defensemen. At 26 years old, Ristolainen leads all active Finnish defensemen with 245 points and ranks second with 46 goals.
He probably won’t be the primary workhorse for the Finns, though. That will likely end up being Miro Heiskanen, who at 22 years old is already one of the better blueliners in the NHL.
Other potential Olympians
Ryan Ellis: Ellis is far from guaranteed a trip to Beijing, especially considering how many other All-Star caliber defensemen will be vying for a roster spot on Team Canada. Still, his chances aren’t completely nonexistent. Ellis has represented Canada in two World Championships and helped his countrymen win the gold in 2016. It’s been half a decade since Ellis last competed internationally, but he could be a viable option as a depth defender.
Cam Atkinson: Atkinson has represented the United States twice in the past, most recently helping the U.S. win a bronze medal at the 2018 World Championship. Atkinson is a two-time All-Star and is just a couple years removed from playing some of the best hockey of his career. If the injury bug takes a bite out of Team USA’s roster, a player like Atkinson could be a logical addition.
Oskar Lindblom: This one’s a bit of a reach, but Lindblom does have some experience representing Sweden internationally. Lindblom appeared to be one of the Flyers’ top offensive weapons before being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma during the 2019-20 season, and if he can recapture his offensive spark, it’s not completely out of the question that he could earn some consideration as a candidate to represent Sweden in Beijing.