"Pucks with Haggs" publishes twice a week. Subscribe here and get Pucks with Haggs straight to your email! Please feel free to comment, share, like, etc. And Subscribe! Thanks and see you at the rinks!
Logic and reason finally won out when it comes to the NHL and a rampant COVID outbreak that’s struck nearly every team in the league just prior to the Christmas holiday.
With the NHL already shut down from Dec. 24-26 for Christmas as is agreed upon in the league’s collective bargaining agreement, the NHL opted to shut things down early with the NHL postponing all games after Tuesday while a growing number of hockey clubs battling outbreaks within their own roster.
Just two games will be played on Tuesday night (Washington/Philly and Tampa Bay/Vegas) with all others postponed.
Well over 100 players have tested positive and been placed in COVID protocol in the last two weeks, with the names representing a Who’s Who of NHL superstars across the league.
In all 44 games have been postponed by the NHL over the last two weeks while several COVID outbreaks within teams quickly spread across the league and forced organizations like the Boston Bruins to play undermanned lineups in losses prior to the plug mercifully getting pulled.
To their credit, the Bruins didn’t have an issue with suiting up for last week’s loss to the New York Islanders where they were forced to play one man down with 11 forwards and six defensemen due to a positive COVID test just before puck drop.
“In all honesty, I believe we should have played that game, along the same lines as several other teams that have gone through similar circumstances,” said Sweeney, referencing teams like the Islanders and Blues that have also been forced to play shorthanded this season due to COVID protocols. “We played one short because we had a test come back positive while we arrived. That’s just what you’re up against. But I do believe they made the right decision in having us play that game.”
It’s even worse in Canada where the Montreal Canadiens had to play in front of an empty arena at the Bell Centre last week, invoking memories of last season’s brutal NHL experience playing games without fans across the US and Canada.
Instead of reporting back to NHL facilities on Dec. 27 as was originally the league’s plan, a statement from the NHL outlined that the “players will report back to their Clubs on Dec. 26, which shall be used for testing, practice and/or travel only. Upon return from the Holiday Break to team facilities, no individual in the team’s Traveling Party shall enter the facility (other than for testing purposes) until they have a negative test result. Any practice scheduled for Dec. 26 must begin after 2:00 p.m. local time. The League’s regular-season schedule will resume on Monday, Dec. 27.”
An extended holiday break isn’t going to completely solve the NHL’s COVID problem, unfortunately.
There will still be many players quarantined and out of the lineup when play resumes this weekend, but enhanced protocols and hitting a temporary pause button could help avoid an extended, and potentially damaging, shutdown next month.
The real question now facing the NHL is whether they will be forced to consider shutting down for a longer period, say until New Year’s Day when the Winter Classic and a full docket of games would be a natural time to resume play. At this point it feels like the NHL is going to cancel participation in February’s Winter Olympics and instead the league will schedule games sprinkled in the three-week February Olympic break to make up the dates being postponed right now.
The NHL will have to somehow navigate arenas that scheduled concerts, Disney on Ice, monster truck shows (Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!) and all kinds of other events for what was to be a scheduled three-week hiatus. But at this point it’s all about the NHL, the NHLPA and everybody involved making the best of a difficult COVID situations while avoiding another league shutdown at all costs.
One of the biggest challenges to all this? It’s selling the players on any of these precautions being necessary at this point.
Aside from Tyler Bertuzzi in Detroit, literally everybody else in the NHL is fully vaccinated and most are getting the booster shot when it’s made available. And Bertuzzi is most definitely hearing about it from everybody else across the league.
Most COVID-positive players aren’t getting sick at all or experiencing just mild symptoms similar to a head cold or the flu and have begun to bang the drum on being able to play if they are asymptomatic.
It’s a question all four major North American pro sports leagues will have to answer at some point in time, since all evidence points toward the vaccine’s efficacy in avoiding serious illness, hospitalization or death.
At some point in the interest of fully getting back to “normal”, the onus should be on everybody getting the vaccine if they’re trying to avoid serious illness due to COVID.
But for now, NHL players will sit back, quarantine and enjoy the extended Christmas holiday with their families while once again pushing through COVID-induced hardships to their regular season for the third consecutive year.
Things could be a lot worse for the NHL and their players, of course, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that they could be a lot better as well during this still joyous holiday season.