Like the NBA and NFL, the NHL is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak of its own as the omicron variant begins to take hold.
As of December 18, more than 60 players are on the league’s COVID protocols and five teams (Bruins, Predators, Flames, Panthers, and Avalanche) are on hiatus during the upcoming league vacation, ending on December 26. December.
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According to ESPN, the league is only considering a full shutdown as a “last resort,” although “things are looking pretty bleak,” reporter Emily Kaplan said on Twitter.
From @Sports Center tonight … here’s the latest on where things are in the NHL after a hectic day.
The NHL hopes it can avoid a complete hiatus and is taking things on a case-by-case basis. But things are looking bleak … for Olympic participation too. pic.twitter.com/QpQPf0py07
– Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) December 17, 2021
The league implemented the new protocols after what happened last week.
Sporting News has everything you need to know about what is happening in the NHL and how the league is handling this outbreak.
What’s in the NHL’s new COVID-19 protocols?
In a memo sent to all 32 teams and signed by Commissioner Gary Bettman, there are six areas of emphasis in the new protocols, most of them related to prevention and testing.
In particular, the protocols apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated players.
As for prevention, these are some of the measures recommended by the league:
- Wear masks at all times within the Club facilities and during travel, including on buses, airplanes and in the hotel (unless you exercise, participate in a game or eat or drink)
- Virtual meetings, or just short face-to-face meetings in large, well-ventilated spaces
- It is highly recommended that you wear masks when in closed public places in your community.
- It is strongly recommended that you wear an N95, KN95, or a surgical mask, not a cloth mask.
- Physical distancing for meals (at least one empty chair) both at the Club’s local market and on the road
Regarding testing, the league has implemented or suggested the following:
- Daily COVID-19 molecular testing (preferably at the molecular point of care) for all members of the club roaming party during the period during which these Enhanced Measures are in effect.
- Additional pregame testing can be implemented on a case-by-case basis when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team, after consultation with the NHL and NHLPA.
- In accordance with the COVID-19 Protocol 2021-22, symptomatic individuals will be monitored with daily molecular tests until all symptoms resolve (to the satisfaction of the club doctor).
- Notwithstanding the foregoing, there will be no team testing of Players on their days off or of Players during the 90-day “test vacation” after a confirmed positive diagnosis.
The full list of new protocols can be found here. These new protocols are in effect until at least January 7, at which time they will be re-examined by the NHL and NHLPA medical experts.
Could the NHL season be paused?
Various media outlets are of the view that a league-wide hiatus is unlikely, even with the large number of postponements during the holidays.
Athletic’s Sean Gentille wrote that a full shutdown would be “a Hail Mary attempt.”
“I also don’t think the NHL wants to be ‘first’ here; if the NBA or the NFL took action across the league, that would take hockey off the hook.” he wrote.
ESPN’s Emily Kaplan said the league is in “qualifying mode” and is “looking to avoid a shutdown at all costs.”
The league completely paused the latter part of last season, from March 12 until play resumed on August 1 with a new format.
Will the protocols end with the NHL’s participation in the Olympics?
The NHL plans to send representatives to Beijing in February, but as commissioner Gary Bettman said, that depends on there being no material interruption in the season. It has not specified what is meant by “material alteration”.
Kaplan reported that the league has until January 10 to withdraw from the Olympics without financial penalty. With the new protocols in place through Jan.7, that doesn’t give the league much time to assess the situation and then act.
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“We’re getting close to that cliff, if we haven’t reached it yet,” Kaplan said.
In his opinion, NHL players are increasingly unlikely to take the ice in Beijing given the trends.
According to The Boston Globe, the decision not to participate would be ultimately up to the players. If they choose not to go, the 2018 Winter Olympics is likely to be a repeat in terms of who plays for team USA. That year, a collection of minor league players, players playing in Europe, American college kids. and free agents represented the country in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after the NHL banned its players from competing in the Olympics.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.