(AP) — The NHL reintroduced stricter COVID-19 protocols Saturday that include daily testing and other steps in a bid to limit a growing outbreak among players and team personnel.
The enhanced protocols will be put into effect immediately and last through Jan. 1 with an evaluation of their impact no later than Jan. 7. The move follows discussions between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association as virus conditions worsen across North America.
Three teams — Calgary, Colorado and Florida — are virtually shut down through next week because of virus cases. Approximiately 70 players — 10% of the 700 league-wide — are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol and the number of games postponed this season has climbed past 20.
The NHL also announced that games involving the Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators will be postponed at least through the scheduled completion of the league’s holiday break on Dec. 26. Additionally, Saturday night’s Toronto-Vancouver game and Sunday’s Arizona-Vancouver and Toronto-Seattle games have been postponed.
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, “additional pre-game testing may be implemented, on a case-by-case basis, when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team.”
The league said the omicron variant is responsible for the uptick in cases.
“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.
Moments after the announcement, Detroit placed three players, coach Jeff Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay in 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.
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 retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing.