The NHL on Saturday shut down the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators through Christmas, bringing to five the number of teams in COVID-19 limbo. Weekend games for the Canucks and Maple Leafs also were postponed as the league tries to control a spiraling outbreak in its locker rooms.
The NHL and its players association agreed to daily testing and other enhanced protocols to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They will take effect immediately and last at least through Jan. 1, with an evaluation no later than Jan. 7.
“Given the increased number of positive cases in our league within the last two weeks, and changing societal realities with the new omicron COVID-19 variant, the NHLPA and NHL have collectively agreed that all Clubs shall be required to follow enhanced preventative and detection measures,” the league said in a statement.
The Bruins and Predators join Calgary, Colorado and Florida, which already had been shut down through next week because of outbreaks. Saturday night’s game between Toronto and Vancouver and Sunday’s Arizona-Vancouver and Toronto-Seattle games were also postponed amid worsening conditions across North America due to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told reporters on Saturday night that the plan was still to get all the games in and have a full Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It may take periods where we’re in now, where we have to step back,” he said. “But our intention is to play a full season and follow best practices. That will take adaptability.”
Approximately 70 players — 10% of the league — are in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol and the number of games postponed this season has climbed past 20. Several Canadian provinces are now or will soon limit attendance at large events like NHL games to 50% of capacity.
Besides the daily testing for players and coaches, the league said “additional pregame testing may be implemented, on a case-by-case basis, when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team.”
Moments after the announcement, Detroit placed three players, coach Jeff Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay in the protocol ahead of Saturday night's home game against New Jersey. The Red Wings have the only player in the league, Tyler Bertuzzi, who is not vaccinated.
The Bruins' COVID-19 list grew to nine players on Saturday when Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar were placed in the protocol. Sweeney said that the “vast majority” of the players have mild symptoms, and some are asymptomatic.
“One player had a day where he felt more under the weather,” he said, adding that two staff members also had what are considered moderate symptoms. “For the most part everybody is doing well and trending in the right direction.”
The Bruins have closed their training facilities, though players needing treatment are allowed to come in. “Some guys took home gym equipment today to stay in shape, but it does present some challenges,” Sweeney said.
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe was added to the protocol Saturday along with defensemen TJ Brodie and Travis Dermott, goalie Jack Campbell and assistant coach Spencer Carbery on the protocol list Saturday. Players John Tavares, Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds were placed on the list Friday.
While postponed games may be rescheduled, all eyes on are the calendar: The NHL plans to allow its players to participate in the Winter Olympics in China in February — unless COVID-19 disruptions prove to be too much.
The NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Winter Games without financial penalty, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing.
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