The NHL will not be sending players to Beijing for the Olympics. Too many games have already been postponed to make up for the Olympics break, and with the buildings being booked for concerts during it, that break will be needed to make up what they can. This bridge is too far to pull off because of the uncertainty over what a player testing positive for would look like in Beijing. The NHL has stressed that the players are still in control, and it doesn't seem like they will be too upset if the league just steps in and makes up the games lost on the schedule.
It is unlikely that the IOC or the Chinese government will push the Olympics back a year or even cancel them altogether because they are still happening. NBC is already running their promo about how the Super Bowl and Olympics will be running at the same time for the first time, because that is some sort of happening worth celebrating for reasons that are easy to understand. NBC has a say.
The hockey tournament is going to happen. When the NHL didn't send their players to South Korea in the summer of 2018, the rosters will be filled with guys playing in Europe. Guys just sitting around and not doing much. NHL teams don't want to keep healthy players that might need to call up, so maybe some college players with a sprinkling of AHL players. Is that going to work this time? The NHL players didn't for the same reasons.
The assumption that players who never dreamed of even being in the discussion of being a choice for an Olympic roster will simply leap at the opportunity is unfair. An interview with Swedish player Magnus Nygren can be found on the Swedish website. The overall message is clear, even if the translation is rough.
Send the fuck out of Europe.
That's right, that sums it up. European leagues don't want to see their players stuck in China for three-to-five weeks if they have to get sick, because they haven't seen the disruption to its schedule that the NHL and AHL have. With thousands of people traveling from all parts of the world, they can't control the event.
The players are not jonesing either. They don't want to leave their families for weeks at a time, or put their health at risk. If they have to miss a lot of games, it will cost them. These guys are more than just props.
These players have bigger contracts than most because they have the opportunity to cash in on anything else around sports that a gold medal can translate to, and they are closer to the profile of other Olympic athletes. Even if this is a chance that wouldn't come to them under normal circumstances, they don't need this as badly as some.
It could leave federations scrambling to fill out rosters of "the willing" which could come from anywhere and everywhere. The NBA didn't run into this because their schedule wasn't going to be interrupted, and Tokyo didn't have the same protocols as China does now That is the only parallel.
It is possible that enough players below the NHL level would still take the chance that they never thought would come. It might not be automatic.