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Deep Blue Sea: COVID concerns continue in NHL

Four more games are suspended, plus Paul Maurice leaves the Jets, Spezza’s suspension reduced and more in today’s news and notes.

Head Coach Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets looks on from the bench during third period action against the Buffalo Sabres at the Canada Life Centre on December 14, 2021 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Four NHL games were postponed for Dec. 18 (Florida Panthers at Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins at Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets at Calgary Flames) and the list of players added to the league’s COVID-19 Protocol grows every hour.

It’s a conflagration of factors that are contributing to the postponements; a highly transmissible COVID variant, the perfect virus-spreading environment one the ice (cold and in close quarters), salary cap restrictions and a lack of taxi squads. Shutting down the league isn’t necessarily feasible, so the NHL will have to figure out a way to proceed with the season while contending with the ongoing pandemic.

When it comes to moderating crowd size, that’s at the hands of local and provincial governments, not the NHL, which is why some teams like the Vancouver Canucks, who are operating at 50 percent crowd capacity, or the Canadiens, who had no fans in attendance for their last home game, are seeing changes in their arena capacity, while others carry on with fewer restrictions.

At least 20 games have been postponed so far and around 10 percent of the league’s players are in Protocol. That’s unlikely to change after the holidays amid a nationwide surge. Postponing games is the least ideal scenario, since it both complicates the schedule and extends the season — which is not only making up for the last two seasons being pushed back, but also the Olympics and All-Star breaks in February — while also losing out on valuable ticket and merchandise sales and viewership.

In order to circumvent having to postpone games, the league may elect to bring back the taxi squad, which allowed teams to (essentially) suspend the salary cap for a few players that can be swapped in and out for players in the event of players entering COVID Protocol. For most NHL teams, their AHL affiliates aren’t nearby, and they can’t call up players in the morning, and have them play in the evening, the way the San Jose Barracuda and Sharks can.

The league will also most likely pull out of the Olympics, due to the potential for positive COVID tests preventing players from returning to North America for weeks in compliance with China’s COVID-19 regulations.

News & Notes

Blood in the Water

  • NHL shuts down 2 more teams for a week amid COVID surge [ABC News]
  • Why the NHL is having a huge COVID-19 outbreak despite high vaccination numbers [Seattle Times]
  • NHL COVID-19 tracker: Avalanche, Panthers’ games postponed through at least Dec. 26 to slow virus spread [CBS News]
  • Maurice resigns as Jets coach, was in ninth season with Winnipeg [NHL]
  • Dumba surprises Minnesota girls youth team with tickets to Winter Classic [NHL]
  • Smiling with a grin of justice, Maple Leafs’ Spezza has suspension reduced [Sportsnet]
  • 10 fantasy hockey takeaways: It’s time to acquire David Pastrnak [Yahoo Sports]
  • Winter Classic between Wild, Blues to celebrate ‘State of Hockey’ [NHL]
  • Brandon Sutter’s ongoing COVID battle different from Uncle Darryl’s [Sportsnet]
  • The Arizona Coyotes and their long road to nowhere [New York Times]

Scores & Recaps

Click on a team name to find a recap on their SB Nation site!

On the Schedule