NHL to suspend operations for 4-day period, begin holiday break early as COVID cases rise

Dec 20, 2021, 7:40 PM | Updated: 8:46 pm

The NHL crest is seen on a referees uniform during the first period between the Montreal Canadiens ...

The NHL crest is seen on a referees uniform during the first period between the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings at Centre Bell on October 23, 2021 in Montreal, Canada. The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 6-1. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

(Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

The National Hockey League is starting a collectively-bargained holiday break early as COVID-19 cases rise across the league.

The league and the players’ association agreed to postpone the games that were scheduled for Thursday and suspend operations following Tuesday night’s games to start the holiday break, which was originally set to begin Friday and run through Sunday.

Amid a rising tide of positive COVID-19 test results involving players, more than a quarter of the league’s 32 teams had already been shut down through at least the weekend. All of Wednesday’s games had been postponed due to COVID-19 issues. Only 11 teams still had a game to play before the break.

The Arizona Coyotes had their last two games postponed due to COVID-19 concerns for the other team, including Tuesday’s matchup in Seattle against the Kraken.

Wednesday through Saturday shall be off days for all purposes, including travel, the league said.

Players will report to clubs on Sunday for testing, practice and/or travel only, the league said, and no individual on the team’s traveling party will enter the facility other than for testing purposes until they have a negative COVID-19 test result.

The league’s regular season will resume on Monday.

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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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