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The NHL will not be shutting down early for Christmas, but its Canadian teams have effectively been put on ice.

Citing “concern about cross-border travel and the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions,” the league announced Sunday that it’s postponing all games between Canadian and U.S. teams between Dec. 20 and 23.

Since no games featuring two Canadian teams are scheduled, that effectively sends all seven Canadian squads into their Christmas breaks early. The Winnipeg Jets hosted the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. South of the border, the Ottawa Senators played in Philadelphia and the Edmonton Oilers were in Seattle on Sunday.

With the rise of the Omicron variant, it’s possible that restrictions on travel between Canada and the U.S. could be ramped up in the coming days. Teams and players were also concerned that if a player tested positive for Covid-19 while outside his home country, isolation requirements could mean that he wouldn’t be able to get home in time for Christmas.

Edmonton forward Jesse Puljujarvi tested positive in Seattle, shortly before Saturday’s game. According to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector, on Sunday the Oilers were working to complete the necessary paperwork to get him chartered home soon.


Reduced Capacity Concerns

At the NHL’s Board of Governors’ meetings earlier this month, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the media that the league is on track to bring in more than $5 billion in revenue this season — on par with pre-pandemic levels — and that projections suggest that the league’s 50/50 revenue split between players and owners will be balanced by the end of the 2023-24 season.

Those projections become harder to meet if any games are cancelled or if they’re played in arenas with reduced capacities.

On the 32 Thoughts podcast on Friday, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that it’s estimated that CDN $2.3 million was lost when the Philadelphia Flyers played the Montreal Canadiens in an empty Bell Centre on Dec. 16.

The Province of Ontario, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, introduced a 50% capacity limit on Dec. 15. British Columbia and Manitoba, home of the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets respectively, followed suit two days later — although the Jets’ restrictions weren’t set to come into effect until Tuesday. Sunday’s game against St. Louis was played in front of an announced crowd of 13,524.

The Province of Alberta, home of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, has not announced any capacity restrictions as of Sunday.

Of the 12 games featuring Canadian teams to be postponed, five were set to be played on Canadian soil, and four of those would have been played under reduced-capacity conditions.

Red Wings Become 6th Team Shut Down

Sunday afternoon, the NHL also announced that the Detroit Red Wings will be shut down until after the holiday break, “due to concern with the number of positive cases within the last several days, as well continued COVID spread.”

Over the past few days, the Red Wings have placed nine players into Covid protocol, along with head coach Jeff Blashill and assistant Alex Tanguay.

Over the course of the last week, the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins and Nashville Predators were also shut down until after the three-day holiday break. That’s set for Dec. 24-26, with games expected to resume on Dec. 27.

Olympic Hopes Running On Fumes

With the addition of Sunday’s 13 new postponements, 40 NHL games will now need to be rescheduled in order to complete the 2021-22 season.

Back in September, deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear that schedule challenges could trigger a league decision to rescind permission for NHL players to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.

“If we have to either cancel games or if we have to postpone and reschedule games outside our normal window, that would mean we will not participate in the Olympics,” Daly said then. “I think our priority has to be completing our 82-game season in the normal course, and not necessarily the Olympics. I think the Players’ Association recognizes that. So there is that trigger.”

The NHL has until January 10th to pull out of the Games without financial penalty. That decision could now come sooner — and in the current environment, that almost definitely means a pull-out.

“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,” said the league in Sunday’s media release.

If NHL players don’t go to China, that opens the door to reschedule some of these lost games during the window where the league was planning to be shut down for the Olympics — between Feb. 3-22, with All-Star weekend set for Las Vegas on Feb. 4-5.

Meanwhile, Some Teams Play On

After Sunday’s adjustments, 12 games are still set to be played over the next four days — all subject to change if the positive tests keep on coming, of course:

  • Monday, December 20: two games
  • Tuesday, December 21: four games
  • Wednesday, December 22: no games
  • Thursday, December 23: six games

Source: Forbes

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