The latest wave of coronavirus-related shutdowns across the NHL has closed 10 teams’ facilities and left just eight games on the schedule before the holiday break.
Amid a rising tide of positive COVID-19 test results involving players, more than a quarter of the league’s 32 teams have been shut down through at least the weekend, and only 11 still have a game to play before the Christmas break, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday.
Seattle’s game Tuesday against Arizona became the latest to get moved to a later date because of the Kraken’s coronavirus issues. It’s the 44th game to be postponed this season — and 39th over the past two weeks, with the delta and omicron variants spreading across North America.
More than 15% of the league’s 700-plus players are in virus protocol, and the resulting schedule disruption almost certainly has doomed the possibility of Olympic participation. A final decision on the Beijing Games is expected this week, and the odds of NHL players returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2014 have cratered.
At this point, league officials are just trying to keep the season on the rails.
The NHL and NHLPA said in a joint statement Sunday the plan was to avoid a full league shutdown, pausing team activities on a case-by-case basis and postponing all cross-border games through Thursday.
“We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular season schedule,” they said. “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.”
The Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators on Monday became the latest teams to pause all activities because of positive COVID-19 tests. The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs also have their facilities closed, and the Calgary Flames just reopened theirs to players, coaches and staff not in protocol.
Before Coyotes-Kraken was wiped out, the Blue Jackets had games set for Monday night at Buffalo and Thursday at home against the Sabres rescheduled, and the NHL postponed the New Jersey Devils’ game at the Pittsburgh Penguins set for Tuesday. The league said Columbus was shut down because of “concern with the number of positive cases within the last several days as well concern for continued COVID spread.”
The Blue Jackets canceled their morning skate Monday while awaiting COVID-19 test results, a day after calling off practice because of virus concerns. They could resume practice Sunday if cleared by the league and are scheduled to face Toronto next Monday, though games involving teams on opposite sides of the U.S.-Canada border could continue to be postponed into next week.
The U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams were set to play a pre-Olympic game Monday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, but that was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta, and it is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by early next year. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing an omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.