Chaos ensued this morning as the NHL announced several new personnel and teams were headed into the Covid 19 protocol. Head Coach of the Boston Bruins, Bruce Cassidy, was placed on the Covid Protocol List. To make matters worse, Don Sweeny, the General Manager, was available for media today and announced that the Bruins would not be able to call up anyone from their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, due to a Covid outbreak on the team. So it’s safe to say that, unfortunately, things aren’t going so well in Boston. North-West of the border, The Edmonton Oilers have canceled their practice this morning due to defenseman Cody Ceci being on the Covid Protocol List. The OHL team, the Sudbury Wolves Hockey Club, has announced the suspension of team activities per established League Protocols.
The Beginning of the “Covid Era” of the NHL and the slow transition forward
Before we dive into what this could mean for the NHL and Hockey’s near future, let’s recap the Covid Era of the NHL. On March 12, 2020 – the NHL shuts down the league as the world goes into total lockdown due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. One year later, after having a Stanley Cup Playoffs played in two different bubbles Toronto and Edmonton, respectively, and the Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned 2020 Stanley Cup Champions, the 2020-21 season was a bit contradistinct from other seasons. After starting the league on January 13 with numerous health protocols and scheduling changes (a shortened season from the usual 82 games down to 56 games), travel restrictions, and no fans in attendance, things gradually shifted towards some normalcy. Taxi squads were also implemented, with great success. (To read more on Taxi Squads, click https://insidetherink.com/opinion-bring-back-the-taxi-squad/). Soon, teams allowed small fans to attend games until slowly growing to allow 100% capacity. The rate of games postponed due to players being on the Covid Protocol lowered significantly. A somewhat normal 2021 playoffs occurred, yet again crowing a Stanely Cup Champion, the back-to-back Tampa Bay lightning.
With growing cases and concerns with a new variant – what does this mean for the NHL going forward?
With growing numbers in Covid cases in the league and two teams having been shut down and having their games rescheduled, it seems that a lot of future NHL events and related sporting events may be in jeopardy of being canceled. 33 NHL players and staff have tested positive for Covid 19, with two teams being temporarily shut down due to the number of internal cases. The World Health Organization has called the new “Omicron variant,” a variant of concern and poses very high global risks. Events such as the Winter Classic, The All-Star Weekend, and the Stadium Series are all high attendance events and could very much be shut down to the increased risk of exposure. Even more worrisome is the Winter Olympic Games, which shall be held in early February. Before the start of the league, the NHL announced that it would allow a break for players to participate. However, that was with the condition that if there were too many games to reschedule, they would have to pull out of the Olympics. The NHL and NHL Player’s Association has until January 10 to withdraw. Furthermore, as of last night, the NHL sent out a memo to all 32 teams canceling all holiday parties and public events and engagements. Hopefully, the cases will be kept at a reasonable number, but it is something to keep an eye out for.