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NHL-NHL’s schedule includes break to send players to Beijing Olympics

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(Reuters) – The NHL released the schedule for its 2021-22 season on Thursday that featured the debut of the Seattle Kraken on opening night and a break in action next February to accommodate a potential deal to send players to the Beijing Olympics.

Subject to reaching an agreement with the NHL Players’ Association and International Ice Hockey Federation on issues including appropriate COVID-19 insurance for NHL players, the league has agreed to halt its season from Feb. 7-22.

The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin on Feb. 4 while preliminary round play of the men’s ice hockey tournament, which would be one of the marquee events of the Winter Games if NHL players participate, starts on Feb. 9.

“The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association will retain full authority to decide not to participate should COVID-19 conditions worsen or otherwise pose a threat to the health and safety of NHL Players, or for any other reason that may warrant such decision,” the NHL said in a news release.

The NHL, unhappy over the prospect of interrupting a regular season to send their most valuable assets overseas where they could get hurt, ended a run of five consecutive Winter Olympics when it decided not to go to Pyeongchang in 2018.

That decision by the NHL came despite clear signs from several of the world’s best players that they wanted to go.

Some owners of NHL teams have lost enthusiasm for the Olympics given the chance that players return to NHL competition injured or tired, thereby hurting their teams chances in the push towards that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

But the league and players, as part of an extension to a collective bargaining agreement reached last year, agreed to go to the 2022 and 2026 Olympics if they could reach an agreement with the IOC.

The NHL’s regular season will begin Oct. 12 with a double-header featuring the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and visiting Pittsburgh Penguins before Seattle kicks off their inaugural season at the Vegas Golden Knights.

Seattle will play their first five games on the road before their Oct. 23 home opener against the Vancouver Canucks.

The regular season, which will see each team play 82 games, will conclude April 29 with every team in action.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Richard Pullin)

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