The NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association have announced the suspension of all operations from Wednesday through Christmas Day amid a surge in positive tests for COVID-19.
The league and the players association announced in a joint statement Monday night that all NHL team facilities will be closed until Boxing Day.
The league’s decision will result in the postponement of an additional five NHL games, all scheduled to be played on Thursday. All four games on Wednesday had already been postponed.
Initially, the league vacation was scheduled to begin on Friday and end on Sunday.
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The NHL has been forced to eliminate 49 games this season, 44 announced since Dec. 13.
After closing, practices can resume Sunday afternoon and games are scheduled to resume next Monday.
When the team facility reopens, all persons traveling with the team will only be able to access the facility by showing a negative COVID-19 test result.
The two games remaining on the schedule before the new vacation are Tuesday when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in Las Vegas.
Before the entire league shutdown, the Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets were the last teams sidelined by COVID-19. They were joined by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators.
The Calgary Flames, which has suffered the largest outbreak in the entire league with 32 people affected, had reopened its facilities to members of the organization who had remained negative during daily tests. But that facility will be closed again until Boxing Day.
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Ottawa and the New York Islanders were previously closed by the league due to COVID-19 outbreaks in early fall.
The NHL and the NHL Players Association previously said in a joint statement that the plan was to avoid a complete shutdown of the league, rather than choosing to continue to halt the team’s activities on a case-by-case basis.
Unlike last season, the league does not provide a daily player count on the COVID-19 protocol, but the number is currently about 15 percent.
The NHL issued a statement Monday announcing the closure of the Canadiens and Blue Jackets that repeated a line that has been used for the past week. He said the decision was made “due to concern over the number of positive cases in recent days, as well as concern about the continued spread of COVID.”
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Columbus was supposed to visit Buffalo on Monday, but canceled his morning skating while awaiting test results, some 24 hours after dropping practice due to virus concerns. The Blue Jackets were also scheduled to host the Sabers on Thursday.
The Oilers later announced that defenders Darnell Nurse and William Lagesson were added to the protocol, joining five teammates and head coach Dave Tippett. Edmonton had already planned to close its facility over the Christmas holidays.
The league, which said Saturday it would immediately return to stricter health and safety measures similar to last season’s COVID-19 rules in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus, also postponed two games scheduled for Tuesday: Pittsburgh- New Jersey and Seattle-Arizona.
The Canadiens won’t play this week even after Sunday’s practice
All but one of the NHL players, Detroit winger Tyler Bertuzzi, is vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Canadiens, who added forward Mike Hoffman to the protocol Monday afternoon, said over the weekend that they would close their facility until Dec. 26 as a preventative measure. Then the Quebec government announced a single-day provincial record of 4,571 new COVID-19 infections.
Along with the six other Canadian-based clubs, Montreal had already seen its remaining matches postponed before the holidays following the league’s decision on Sunday to temporarily pause cross-border travel until Thursday.
The NHL also said it would announce a decision later this week with the union on participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, but the series of COVID-19 postponements has almost certainly paved the way for the league to withdraw from the Winter Games in China. .
The Leafs announced Monday that two members of their support staff have entered protocol. Toronto has seven players, including captain John Tavares and number one goalkeeper Jack Campbell, in isolation along with head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Canadian public health officials have said that the latest COVID-19 mutation has the potential to spread more rapidly than the Delta variant, which was already highly communicable. It is also not currently known whether Omicron carries a greater or lesser risk of serious illness or death.
When it comes to immunity, being fully vaccinated and then receiving a booster shot is expected to reasonably protect against infection and likely offer strong protection against serious illness. However, experts have said that it should be combined with layers of public health measures and individual precautions.
Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher spoke to reporters Sunday, ahead of the team’s shutdown, for the first time since he was sidelined by the coronavirus earlier this month.
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The 29-year-old said he experienced some “pretty harsh symptoms” the first few days.
“Did it make me hard? just lying there, fighting, ”Gallagher told reporters in Brossard, Que. “But after two days I was fine, and then I spent eight days (in quarantine) with my thoughts and a bit of boredom around the house. I did a little cleaning, played a lot of video games, watched a lot of movies, made a lot of phone calls, and did a lot of checking on the guys.
“It took me a while to get (COVID-19), but now that you’ve gotten through it, you understand what everyone’s been going through.”
Gallagher added that there has definitely been talk among players about a league-wide schedule hiatus.
“We are having those conversations, for sure,” he said. “I understand the NHL’s point of view. We have to get an 82 game season in _ we have to.
“We knew we were going to have to deal with this, and this was a potential and a possibility.”
–With files from Joshua Clipperton
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