- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin was named the general manager of the 2022 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team Tuesday, as concerns mount that NHL players may not participate in the Beijing Games.
Guerin acknowledged the challenges that may keep NHL players from appearing in the 2022 Winter Olympics, a right they pushed to have in their 2020 collective bargaining negotiations with the owners.
“It’s been a crazy year. There are a lot of questions still out there. But our focus right now is to put together the best team that we possibly can and to compete for a gold medal,” Guerin said. “And with the deep player pool that we have in the United States, we think that’s capable.”
Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, said the organization received an updated playbook from the Beijing Olympic Committee that details the latest COVID-19 protocols and quarantine rules if an athlete tests positive while participating in the Winter Games. Kelleher said discussions are ongoing with the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, as well as with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
“We’re certainly hopeful that all systems will be ‘go’ when it’s time to go to Beijing, but there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of moving parts,” Kelleher said.
New York Rangers GM Chris Drury was named assistant general manager. He and Guerin were teammates on the 2002 and 2006 U.S. men’s Olympic teams. John Vanbiesbrouck, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey, will work with them in a player personnel capacity. Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan will be behind the bench in Beijing — if the NHL participates.
The NHLPA is concerned about a number of coronavirus-related issues with the Olympics. Any player with a confirmed positive test must produce two negative tests that are 24 hours apart or the quarantine period can last from three to five weeks. Where that would take place, and whether a player could leave China rather than quarantining there, is among the issues the NHLPA is waiting for clarity on.
NHL players who contract COVID-19 during the Olympics will not be paid for games and practices they miss after the league’s Olympic break. The International Ice Hockey Federation does have a $5 million fund to help players who are affected financially.
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner is the only player who has publicly pulled out of the Olympics, saying he would not join Team Sweden due to medical and mental health concerns.
Guerin said there is a possibility that U.S. players could do the same, but Drury noted that “to date, there hasn’t been much talk about” Team USA players opting out.
“Our job is to make them feel comfortable about going,” Guerin said. “The last thing we want to do is put anybody in harm’s way.”
USA Hockey’s Plan B would be a combination of American Hockey League players, NCAA players and U.S.-born players competing in European leagues.
Guerin said 55 NHL players are under consideration for Team USA roster spots. Vegas Golden Knights star Jack Eichel could be one of them.
Eichel underwent artificial disk replacement surgery last month. His recovery time could allow him to play in the Olympics, where he would be the team’s No. 2 center behind Auston Matthews.
“I’ve been in touch with Jack’s agent, but the details on those conversations I have to keep between him and I,” said Guerin, who wouldn’t rule out Eichel playing for Team USA in Beijing.
Guerin’s path to the Team USA job was rife with controversies. He was initially brought on by Stan Bowman, who stepped down as general manager hours after he “stepped aside” as GM and president of hockey operations of the Chicago Blackhawks in late October. The decision followed an investigation into how the Blackhawks handled sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich during its 2010 Stanley Cup run.
“There were definitely some unfortunate situations along the way,” Guerin said. “Stan and I have remained in contact. Stan’s a friend. He was doing a heck of a job, and I was proud to be on his staff. Unfortunately, things turned out the way they did, and here we are today.
“We have a job to do. We have to remain steadfast on that. We have to just focus on the hockey right now.”
Guerin was also embroiled in a controversy stemming from his days as an assistant general manager with the Penguins. Former AHL assistant coach Jarrod Skalde filed a lawsuit against the Penguins in November 2020 that alleged former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John “Clark” Donatelli sexually assaulted his wife Erin Skalde in 2018. Skalde further alleged that Guerin, who oversaw the AHL affiliate, told him to keep quiet about the situation when informed about it.
In November 2021, a law firm representing Erin Skalde announced plans to file a lawsuit against several individuals involved, including Guerin. But Jarrod and Erin Skalde have reached a resolution with the Penguins and announced that the legal matter “has come to satisfactory conclusion for all parties involved.”
That situation led to a notable gap between Bowman stepping down and Guerin being formally named as Team USA general manager. SafeSport, a nonprofit committed to ending abuse in sports, has not completed its investigation into Guerin’s actions.
“There have been some ups and downs, but today’s is a very happy day. It’s the chance of a lifetime,” Guerin said.
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