There's lots hockey fans will miss with NHL's absence from Beijing Olympics

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  • Edmonton Oilers
    Edmonton Oilers
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  • New York Rangers
    New York Rangers
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  • Pittsburgh Penguins
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  • Connor Hellebuyck
    Connor Hellebuyck
    American ice hockey player
Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, right, has yet to get an opportunity to compete for Canada in an Olympics while Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, centre, has competed in two Winter Games having scored the winning goal in 2010 in Vancouver. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images - image credit)
Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, right, has yet to get an opportunity to compete for Canada in an Olympics while Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, centre, has competed in two Winter Games having scored the winning goal in 2010 in Vancouver. (Codie McLachlan/Getty Images - image credit)

For diehard hockey fans, it's hardly shocking to learn the NHL and the NHL Players' Association officially withdrew Wednesday from the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

After all, the two parties had already agreed to temporarily pause the NHL season from Dec. 22 to 25. And more than 15 per cent of NHL players are in COVID-19 protocols with the rise of the Omicron variant threatening to shut down professional sports leagues throughout North America.

At this point, there will still be an Olympic hockey tournament, and Canada will field a team.

But those who love the frozen game can be forgiven for wistfully wondering what might have been in a best-on-best Olympic showcase, especially given the NHL also skipped the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang South Korea.

WATCH | NHL players will not participate at Beijing Games:

Here are some of the things we'll miss the most:

Two generational talents, one sheet of ice: Sidney Crosby, 34, cemented his legacy as one of the best to ever play by scoring the golden goal at the 2010 Vancouver Games. McDavid, 24, is arguably the most sensational hockey player on the planet at present. With Crosby on the back end of his career, the passing of the proverbial Olympic torch – from one superstar to the other – is not to be.

WATCH | Crosby scores legendary golden goal to win it for Canada in 2010:

Mr. McDavid meets the world: In Canada, the sensational exploits of the Edmonton Oilers captain are well known. For proof, watch the video evidence from Nov. 6 of No. 97 stickhandling through four New York Rangers before deking out goalie Alexandar Georgiev. Or roll the highlights from Nov. 19 when McDavid cut through three Winnipeg Jets and deposited the puck behind Connor Hellebuyck. Internationally, the Beijing Olympics presented McDavid with an opportunity to cement his place alongside the all-time greats on skates.

WATCH | McDavid puts on stickhandling showcase for insane goal:

WATCH | McDavid whizzes through Jets defenders for outstanding score:

A goaltending clinic for the ages: While a Team Canada with NHL players would have entered the Olympics as the favourite, goaltending could very well have proven their weakness. Russia understandably liked its chances with reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Sweden's Jacob Markstrom is enjoying a sensational season with a .933 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average for the Calgary Flames. Nashville's Juuse Saros is a rising star for Finland and the United States could choose between Jack Campbell, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy winner in 2020.

After missing the 2021-22 NHL season thus far, Montreal netminder Carey Price was doubtful for Canada, leaving the door open for Marc-Andre Fleury or Jordan Binnington to claim the starting role.

The Russian Rocket defies the clock: At age 36, the silver-haired Alex Ovechkin is playing some of the best hockey of his career for the Washington Capitals. He sits two points back of McDavid and Edmonton teammate Leon Draisaitl in the Art Ross Trophy race with 47 points in 31 games. We can only guess how many goals Ovechkin would have scored for Russia playing with Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov and Artemi Panarin.

WATCH | Ovechkin passes Hull for 4th all-time on goals list:

An Olympic debut for Cale Makar and Thomas Chabot: Makar is a 23-year-old scoring sensation for the Colorado Avalanche. Chabot, 24, is a minute-munching defenceman for the Ottawa Senators. Together, they project to be the anchors of the Team Canada blueline for the next two Olympics after Beijing. There could have been no better education for the pair than to learn on the job from veterans like Alex Pietrangelo, and possibly Drew Doughty.

An Olympic appearance for Steven Stamkos: Stamkos has more than lived up to his billing as the first-overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The Markham, Ont. product is captain of the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting. Internationally, he won gold at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championship, silver at the 2009 World Championship and gold at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. One of the best goal scorers of a generation, Stamkos broke his tibia before the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Beijing was shaping up as likely his final opportunity. He appeared to have played his way onto the team this season with 13 goals and 34 points in 38 games. But then the coronavirus intervened.

WATCH | Stamkos records 900th career point in win:

NHL teammates turned foes: It's always fascinating to watch NHL teammates compete against one another on the Olympic stage. These Games promised intrigue in that department with McDavid (Edmonton, Team Canada) vs. Draisaitl (Edmonton, Team Germany), Auston Matthews (Toronto, Team USA) vs. Mitch Marner (Toronto, Team Canada), Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary, Team USA) vs. Matthew Tkachuk (Calgary, Team USA) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado, Team Canada) vs. Mikko Ratanen (Colorado, Team Finland.)

Pests-in-arms: Ottawa captain Brady Tkachuk was expected to play for Team USA alongside his big brother Matthew. Both are considered world-class pests who annoy their opponents on a nightly basis and needle them into taking undisciplined penalties. Working together, who knows what mayhem might have ensued.

A coming-together of Canadians: This country seemed to collectively stop back in 2010 when the Canadian men clashed with the United States in the gold-medal game at the Vancouver Olympics. While the NHL is the biggest Olympic draw for many Canadians, perhaps the women's hockey team will provide that galvanizing moment in 2022 as we approach the two-year mark of a pandemic that has already stolen so much from so many.

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