The International Ice Hockey Federation announced Friday that it had reached an agreement with the NHL and NHL Players' Association to allow NHL players to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The NHL and NHLPA released the following statement regarding the decision:
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly commented on the agreement as well, saying: "We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries. We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage."
NHL players were not permitted to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, marking the first time since the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer that NHL players were omitted.
Prior to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, men's ice hockey was populated by amateur players and players who competed in professional leagues aside from the NHL.
While that led to some legendary moments, including a U.S. team comprising college players upsetting the mighty Soviet Union in Lake Placid in 1980, it prevented the best players in the world from competing for Olympic gold.
The level of interest surrounding men's hockey at the Olympics increased significantly in 1998, and that remained that case through the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
Perhaps the best argument in favor of NHL players in the Olympics occurred in 2010 when Canada and the United States met in the gold-medal game in Vancouver.
Both teams were stacked with top-flight NHL talent, and the game went to overtime, where Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby beat then-Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller for the game-winner.
The high-level play and drama on display in 2010 simply weren't present in 2018 in Pyeongchang.
Without NHL players, perennial powers like the United States, Finland and Sweden failed to medal, while Canada settled for bronze.
The gold-medal game was won by the Olympic Athletes from Russia over a Germany team that made a surprising deep run.
While Germany's Cinderella story made for some nice moments, the lack of star power in the tournament left fans longing for the return of NHL players.
It became clear in July when the NHL left a break in its 2021-22 regular season schedule that an Olympic return was a strong possibility.
That return was finalized Friday, and it will see the NHL pause from Feb. 7 through Feb. 22 next season.
With NHL players back in the fold, Canada, the Russian Olympic Committee, the United States, Finland and Sweden figure to be the top medal contenders in Beijing.
The tournament will also include Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Latvia and Denmark. Plus, host nation China will make its Olympic debut in men's ice hockey.