The 2022 Olympic Winter Games are decidedly understated this year. Limited crowds, strict coronavirus mitigation protocols and now the lack of NHL players in the men’s hockey tournament all contribute to an event that lacks hype. In the absence of hype, however, there is intrigue.

Men’s hockey will remain one of the more popular events of the Winter Olympics, even if it lacks the star power. The gap is somewhat narrowed among the teams without NHL players, meaning Canada doesn’t come in as the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. In fact, they’re only getting the fourth best odds to win gold at this point (attention value hunters). That parity might make the tournament difficult to bet, but it sure makes for compelling competition.

Despite no current NHL players, there are many former NHL players like Canada’s Eric Staal, Czech David Krejci and Finnish flagbearer Valtteri Filppula, among many others. There’s also a host of high-end NHL prospects who should be stars in their own right down the line, headlined by Canadian and No. 1 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Owen Power and American center Matty Beniers, who is Power’s University of Michigan teammate and went No. 2 to the Seattle Kraken in the last draft.

To get you ready for the tournament and give you a feel for what to be looking for as the Olympic hockey tournament gets rolling this week, here are some key storylines to be aware of as well as some predictions.

Coronavirus looms over tournament

There’s no escaping it here. Like all of our daily lives and sports as a whole this year, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, especially so when the mitigation measures in Beijing are so remarkably strict.

Some teams left players home with positive tests, needing to isolate before they can test out of protocol and travel to Beijing, others tested positive upon arrival in Beijing. Russia Olympic Committee – so named because Russia cannot compete under its national flag as part of its punishment for their state-sponsored doping program – had six members of its traveling party in testing protocols. The U.S. left one player home and had two more sent to isolation with hopes they’ll clear in time to play in the tournament.

If you are planning on wagering on these games, pay very close attention to the lineups and the daily reports from teams about which players are or aren’t in protocol.

The pandemic is going to play a role no matter how you look at it.

Staal lead’s strong Canada squad

Eric Staal is one of 11 Canadians and 29 players overall in the history of hockey to be part of the “Triple Gold Club” which includes players that have won the Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal and an IIHF Men’s World Championship. He will be the captain for Team Canada after not landing an NHL contract last offseason despite a strong postseason performance with the Montreal Canadiens that saw Staal reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The 37-year-old has played in 1,293 NHL games over his career, posting 1,034 points over that span which included a lengthy run as the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes. He also was part of Canada’s 2010 Olympic team where they won the gold medal, putting up six points over seven games.

In addition to Staal, the Canadians will lean heavily on veterans like former NHLers David Desharnais, Jason Demers and Daniel Winnik, among others. On the other end of the spectrum, Canada has two 19-year-olds on the roster, including the aforementioned Power, who is the top scoring defenseman in U.S. college hockey, and Mason McTavish, who was the No. 3 overall pick in 2021 by the Anaheim Ducks and is currently playing junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League. Canada may also turn to young Devon Levi in net. The 20-year-old is currently one of the top goalies in U.S. college hockey for Northeastern University and is a Buffalo Sabres prospect.

Canada has a good mix of veteran talent, size and experience. I think they’re going to be a lot tougher to beat than they’re being given credit for. Canada might be a very good value play at  if you’re so inclined to bet.

Russia Olympic Committee looks to defend gold

At the 2014 Winter Olympics, the “Olympic Athletes of Russia” as they were called for that tournament, won the gold medal in dramatic fashion, ending a 26-year gold medal drought for the country that once dominated the Winter Games. Kirill Kaprizov, now starring for the Minnesota Wild, scored the golden goal in that game as the Russians came back to beat a surprising Germany team.

This time around, Russia will lean on some veterans from that tournament including Nikita Gusev, who was a standout in the last Olympics. KHL superstars Vadim Shipachyov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Anton Slepyshev, Nikita Nesterov and Alexander Samonov will also be key in the golden defense.

Russia Olympic Committee is the clear favorite in the tournament because they have a lot of players that have been on this stage before. Additionally, the Russian team has had some tournaments to get prepared, playing on the European Hockey Tour and getting good reps with each other. They will be tough to beat, but they’re not without fault. The defense in particular could be a weak spot and their goaltenders are largely unproven on this stage.

American turns team over to the kids

The U.S. Olympic team will have a vibe more similar to that of the Miracle on Ice team of 1980 than the roster they brought to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Instead of leaning more on European pro players, USA Hockey will have 12 players for U.S. college hockey programs, ranging in age from 19 to 24. It’s a risky proposition, but their best players in 2018 were two college players and now current NHLers, Ryan Donato and Troy Terry. They figure more youth is better in a tournament like this.

Among the standout youngsters are multiple members of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship gold medal team, including defensemen Jake Sanderson, Brock Faber and Drew Helleson, and forwards Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson. Sanderson is currently in COVID-19 protocols, but the team believes he will be ready to play once he is cleared. He was the fifth overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators and could be one of USA’s most important defenders.

In net, the Americans are likely to turn to Strauss Mann, who is currently playing in Sweden’s top pro division. The 23-year-old has been very good for Skelleftea in the SHL, and was one of the best goaltenders in U.S. college hockey over the previous two seasons. Team USA also has youngster Drew Commesso as a potential option in net. He was a 2019 second-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks.

This is the most uniquely-built team in the tournament, so keep an eye on them. The U.S. is not favored to do much in this Olympics - they're priced at  to win gold - but I wouldn’t be quick to toss them out of the hunt here.


This is a hard one. I think the fact that all of these teams were put together at the last minute, that there’s a lot of COVID-19 protocols to deal with, this may not end up being the most crisply-played hockey tournament.

To me, the Russians have the best team on paper, but not by nearly as significant a margin as they appeared to in 2018. Canada has a great balance of veteran talent and young up-and-comers who are hungry to compete. The Americans are betting big on youth, which is risky but creative. Sweden’s roster  lacked imagination and doesn’t have much high-end skill , nor does Finland’s . The Czech Republic  might be one of the best dark horse teams, with some recent NHL players on their roster. Slovakia’s got some really interesting young players, but not a ton else .

I watch a lot of international hockey, but this will be one of the most unique tournaments I’ve ever covered. There’s just so much that is difficult to predict. I am certain there will be some upsets along the way, but I don’t think we’ll see it get too far off the beaten path here.

Gold: Russian Olympic Committee

Silver: Canada

Bronze: Czech Republic

Fourth: USA