- The National Hockey League (NHL) has postponed all cross-border games until after the Christmas holiday break due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
- The NHL has ‘shut down’ six teams and postponed their games due to COVID outbreaks among players and staff.
- The NHL will be idle December 24 through December 26 for the Christmas Break and additional measures could follow.
Remember when it felt like the COVID-19 pandemic was in the rear view mirror and that life could return to some semblance of normalcy? Not so fast–the world is now dealing with a new surge of COVID infections comprised primarily of the delta and omicron variant. If there’s any good news, it’s that the omicron variant appears to be less severe than it’s predecessors–at least for anyone with a dull normal or higher IQ that is fully vaccinated.
The surge in infections has been spread throughout the United States and Canada and has not spared the world of professional sports. Many leagues and teams are dealing with outbreaks with some of the worst in the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL has already been forced to postpone 27 games due to virus related issues and six teams are on ‘hiatus’ due to outbreaks among players and staff.
The NHL has now taken another step, this one largely proactive. All games that involve cross-border travel between the United States and Canada will be postponed until after the league’s scheduled Christmas break (December 24 through December 26). As of yet, there has not been any move by either the US or Canadian government to put a stop to cross border travel–both Washington DC and Ottawa are under significant economic pressure to keep traffic flowing in both directions. That could change–and the league indicated that the decision to postpone cross border games was motivated in part by “the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions.”
As has been the case in the broader population, most of the positive COVID test results have been asymptomatic with few considered serious. With virtually the entire league vaccinated that is the expected outcome. There could be additional postponements forthcoming, and the participation of NHL players in the upcoming Winter Olympics is now in serious doubt. Here’s what ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported late Saturday:
The decision to postpone cross border travel was made jointly by the league and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA). The two organizations also released a statement addressing the status of NHL players’ participation in the Olympics:
“(With) the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days,”
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to press forward with the regular season with the proviso that individual teams be temporarily shut down if their COVID situation warrants. Seven teams are currently shut down with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs being the most recent additions to the list. The Wings have nine players and three members of the coaching staff in COVID-19 protocol while the Leafs have seven players and two coaches in protocol. The other teams currently on a COVID hiatus are the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.
“Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness. Therefore, the NHLPA’s and NHL’s medical experts have determined that, with virtually all players and club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. The effects of recently introduced enhanced prevention and detection measures will be evaluated daily. The NHL and NHLPA, along with their medical experts, will be monitoring not only the number and pattern of positive COVID results, but also the depth of club lineups so as to ensure both the health and safety of the players and the integrity of League competition.”
The NHL has until January 10 to opt out of the Olympics without any financial penalty. At this point, it looks unlikely that the league’s players will participate in the games. The NHL had scheduled a three week Olympic break and should the decision be made to opt out of the games that time could be used to make up rescheduled games. The league is hoping to avoid a league wide pause to the season due to the COVID-19 situation but that option is still on the table should the situation worsen.