The NHL has shut down two more teams during the Christmas break on Friday so as not to pause all 32 teams due to deteriorating COVID-19 test scores in the league. There are currently a total of 20 NHL games on hold, most of which have taken place in recent days, and roughly 10 percent of the over 700 players are currently on the league’s viral protocol.
While teams report mostly asymptomatic or mild cases among their players, the growing number of positive tests heightens fears that the NHL will not send its players to the China Winter Olympics and threatens to turn the seven-team league’s schedule in Canada. it depends on cross-border travel more than any other.
“The fact that we only closed two additional teams means that we are trying to avoid a total league closure,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press in an email. He added that “it is obvious that this can change depending on the circumstances.”
All Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers games have been rescheduled for at least the following weekend, and the badly hit Calgary Flames closed for the December 24-26 holiday.
“It was the only call,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said during a video call.
Training centers for all three teams have been closed as the league raised concerns about the number of positive infections in the past two days, as well as concerns about the continued spread of COVID in the coming days.
In another blow to a league that is heavily dependent on ticket revenues, four of the five Canadian provinces that NHL teams are in are or will soon cap seat capacities to 50 percent. Only in Alberta, home to Edmonton and Calgary, has no such restriction been announced, and in fact, as planned, the World Junior Hockey Championship, which opens on December 26, is moving forward.
There are now over 70 NHL players on the protocol, including 19 on the Flame. It’s a discouraging sign for a league where all but one player on active rosters across the league, Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi, is considered fully vaccinated. It was unclear how many people received the revaccination as recommended by the health authorities and the league.
“So far, our cases have been either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic,” said Dr. Flames Ian Old, adding that there are four to six players on the team with mild symptoms, such as chills, that resolved within 36 to 48 hours. “In the vast majority of cases, we are seeing a mild illness, which is encouraging.”
The NHL has rescheduled just five games during the first two months of the season, and one has already been rescheduled and played. As recently as last week, NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr said the league was “able to handle” some of the delays.
This changed quickly.
All in all, Calgary have six games postponed, Avalanche have four and the Panthers have three. The New York Islanders, Ottawa, Carolina, and now Boston and Montreal, whose games in Quebec on Saturday were canceled, have postponed games.
The postponement of such a number of games could jeopardize the NHL’s participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, which starts on February 4. When the league and players agreed to participate, they left the door open to refuse if they needed two and a half times. one week break for the end of the season.
Daly said Friday that no decision has yet been made on the Olympics, but noted that the likelihood “is becoming more and more difficult.” The league must withdraw from the game before January 10 without penalties.
Uncertainty will persist for now.
No word was heard from the league about the Bruins’ Sunday game in Ottawa, which, like Toronto and other Ontario cities, is capturing 50% seat capacity to meet new provincial health requirements; Manitoba, home to the Winnipeg Jets, will take a similar step on Tuesday.
The Canadiens beat Philadelphia on home ice Thursday night at the largely empty Bell Center due to rising COVID-19 cases in Quebec, as required by local health authorities.
The teams that are on the ice are missing many key players. The Bruins are left without seven players due to COVID-19 protocol, including stars Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, due to a 3-1 defeat on Thursday night at the New York Islanders. They beat a man with 11 strikers and six defenders.
Florida had seven on Thursday and Colorado had five, although Avalanche continued Thursday in Nashville, which also had several players and coaches unavailable for virus-related reasons.
Toronto Maple Leafs canceled training in Vancouver Friday as a precaution after captain John Tavares and striker Alexander Kerfoot were added to the list; The Canucks have five players on the sheet. Hours later, British Columbia health officials said they would limit the capacity of facilities from more than 1,000 to 50 percent.
Maple Leafs were later added to the protocol by Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza.