NHL's push for hockey in China could be linked to 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

The NHL did not win many fans, especially among its own players, when it refused to break up the 2017-18 season for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The league will essentially "go dark" across NBC's networks for February, when otherwise it might have added some games to the nationally televised schedule. And that's purportedly just one of the many results of the NHL refusing to allow its players to go to the Winter Games. Countless players, including reigning MVP Connor McDavid, publicly chided the league for its decision, and the NHL's simultaneous emphasis on overseas preseason games was overshadowed by its absence from the Olympic stage.

The NHL's ongoing push for hockey in China, however, might also be the precursor to an embrace of the next Winter Olympics, the 2022 Games in Beijing.

This is according to a report from NBC News' Sheng Peng, who said this week "it's presumed that the league cannot afford to miss out on prime exposure in the world's largest economy in 2022."

First and foremost, Peng reports, the NHL is concentrated on tapping into China for its own expansion. After the 2017-18 China Games, a two-game slate of preseason contests in Beijing and Shanghai, the league is contracted "to play a minimum of six times over the next eight years in the country," and China itself intends to construct an additional 1,000 ice rinks in the next five years.

"All roads," Peng adds, "seem to lead to the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022."

And why wouldn't they? If the NHL pours its time and resources into an international presence, specifically in China, it would be twice as polarizing as next year's Olympics absence if the league turned its back on the Beijing Games in 2022. The obvious question, though, remains for those who notice the NHL's insistence on talking up China possibilities: Why didn't the NHL embrace this kind of global outreach now -- you know, with the 2018 Winter Olympics right at the doorstep?

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