NATIONAL – A person with direct knowledge of discussions said the NHL is beginning a leaguewide shutdown Wednesday amid an increase of positive COVID-19 test results among players across the league.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Monday because the pause on the season had yet to be announced. Beginning the annual holiday break two days early means five additional games will be postponed, bringing the total this season to 49.
Two games slated for Tuesday are still set to go on as scheduled.
The league and NHL Players’ Association on Sunday said in a joint statement they were attempting to avoid a leaguewide shutdown and were making decisions on a team-by-team basis. The latest shift gives all 32 teams an extended break before players, coaches and staff can gather again Sunday to skate and undergo coronavirus testing.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the Christmas break typically prohibits team activities before Dec. 27. Games are still scheduled to resume that day.
The latest wave of coronavirus-related shutdowns Monday led to the closure of facilities for 10 teams. Of the 49 postponements, 44 have come 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.
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.
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.