While NHL participation in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics has yet to be determined, one of its biggest stars of all-time has committed to be the face of ice hockey at that event: Jaromir Jagr.
The 46-year-old legend, who is second to Wayne Gretzky in NHL career points (1,921), has signed on as the official hockey ambassador for the 2022 Games. The announcement was made after a meeting between Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman and Sun Chunlan, vice-premier of the Chinese State Council, earlier this week.
"Jaromir Jagr will be the face of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022, and will help in the preparation and development of Chinese hockey," said a statement released after the meeting.
Jagr has participated in five Winter Olympics and helped the Czechs win gold 20 years ago in Nagano, the first Olympics to feature NHL players. The NHL forbade its players from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea after negotiations with the IOC and IIHF didn't produce a more favorable deal for the league's owners, who have soured on the notion of shutting down their regular season for Olympic participation.
According to Inside The Games, Jagr's deal with China comes one year after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Czech Ice Hockey Association and China, aiming to increase participation in youth hockey programs and create buzz for the hockey tournament in the Czech Republic.
The move is another high-profile partnership for China when it comes to hockey. Recently, Gretzky was named as global ambassador for Beijing's Kunlun Red Star hockey program.
Jagr's partnership isn't likely to quiet speculation that the legendary right wing could end up playing in China. His last NHL game was on Dec. 31, 2017, with the Calgary Flames. He returned to Kladno in the Czech league, a team he owns, only to have his season undercut by injuries. He's been practicing with that team and working back into shape. Whether that could eventually mean a return to the KHL has been speculated -- there was interest from the Kunlun Red Star of the KHL back in 2017 about signing Jagr.
There's certainly money to be had there: Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer of smartphones, has made Jagr the centerpiece of their marketing campaign for the past three years.