The NHL reintroduced stricter COVID-19 protocols Saturday that include daily testing and other steps in a bid to limit a growing outbreak among players and team personnel. The enhanced protocols will be put into effect immediately and last through Jan. 1, with an evaluation of their impact to take place no later than Jan. 7, the AP reports. The move follows discussions between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association as virus conditions worsen across North America. Three teams—Calgary, Colorado, and Florida—are virtually shut down through next week because of virus cases.
Approximately 70 players are in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol; that's 10% of the league. The number of games postponed this season has climbed to 20. Several Canadian provinces are limiting attendance at large events like NHL games to 50% of capacity, or plan to soon. The Canadiens game in Montreal on Thursday was closed to fans, per Yahoo Sports. Besides the daily testing for players and coaches, "additional pre-game testing may be implemented, on a case-by-case basis, when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team," league said. The omicron variant is responsible for the uptick in cases, the NHL said.
Moments after the announcement, Detroit placed three players, coach Jeff Blashill, and assistant coach Alex Tanguay in protocol ahead of Saturday night's home game against New Jersey. The Red Wings have the only player in the league, Tyler Bertuzzi, who is not vaccinated. While postponed games may be rescheduled, all eyes on are the calendar: The NHL plans to allow players to participate in the Winter Olympics in China in February—unless COVID-19 disruptions prove to be too much. The NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Games without financial penalty but retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing. (The NBA and NFL also are dealing with outbreaks.)