The National Hockey League and the players’ association jointly released an announcement on Sunday afternoon. The release announced that the season will continue, but several games involving cross-border travel have been postponed.
Here’s the release:
i) We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular-season schedule. 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. Therefore, the NHLPA’s and NHL’s medical experts have determined that, with virtually all Players and Club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. The effects of recently introduced enhanced prevention and detection measures will be evaluated daily. The NHL and NHLPA, along with their medical experts, will be monitoring not only the number and pattern of positive COVID results, but also the depth of Club line-ups so as to ensure both the health and safety of the Players and the integrity of League competition.
ii) Due to the concern about cross-border travel and, given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions, effective on Monday, all games involving a Canadian-based team playing a U.S.-based team from Monday, Dec. 20 through the start of the Holiday break on Dec. 23, will be postponed and rescheduled.
(12 additional games were postponed.)
ii) Given the disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events – 27 games had been postponed as of Saturday and at least 12 more will be postponed through Dec. 23 – and the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days.
With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting Protocols as necessary.
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The first point feels like a compromise; the NHL likely doesn’t want to go forward with blanket postponements given the lack of severe illness in those impacted thus far – and hopefully the cases we’re hearing about remain asymptomatic or mild. But this is also the most explicit the league has been about what it takes to cause a postponement: a lack of lineup depth and/or enough cases that it would impact the integrity of competition.
The second point is pure logistics: it’s unclear how open the border will remain, so they’re hedging their bets. (And nobody wants to see players test positive and getting stranded on the other side of the border away from their families for Christmas.)
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The third point is also pure logistics: the NHL will have 39 games to reschedule, the Flames have six on their own, and cramming these games into the existing footprint without impacting Olympic participation will be a massive, massive feat. (Maybe an impossible one.)
We’ll have more on this story as it develops.