The NHL closes its doors from Wednesday to Saturday; 5 matches postponed

The NHL begins a league-wide shutdown on Wednesday amid an increase in positive COVID-19 test results among players, and with 10 of the league’s 32 teams already suspended and their facilities closed.

The league announced Monday night that it would open its annual vacation two days earlier than scheduled and run until Saturday. The decision, made in coordination with the NHL Players Association, means five more games scheduled for Thursday will be postponed, bringing the total this season to 49.

Two games scheduled for Tuesday should still go as planned. Teams will then report for COVID-19 testing and training on Sunday, a day before games resume. Players and travel party members from each team will be required to test negative before being allowed to return to their respective facilities.

The decision to start the early break comes a day after the NHL and NHLPA released a joint statement announcing that they were trying to avoid a league-wide shutdown by making team-by-team decisions. The holiday break was previously scheduled to run from Friday to Sunday.

Of the 49 games postponed, 44 have been played in the past two weeks, with the delta and omicron variants spreading across North America.

More than 15% of the league’s 700-plus players are on virus protocol, and the resulting schedule disruption has almost certainly doomed the possibility of competing in the Olympics. 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 collapsed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators became the last teams to suspend all activities on Monday due to positive COVID-19 tests. The Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Toronto Maple Leafs have also closed their facilities, and the Calgary Flames have just reopened theirs to the players, coaches and staff not complying with protocol.

The US and Canadian women’s hockey teams were scheduled to play a pre-Olympic game on Monday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, but that was canceled due to concerns over COVID-19.

Much of the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Scientists say omicron spreads even more easily than other strains of coronavirus, including delta, and is expected to become dominant in the United States by early next year. Early studies suggest that those vaccinated will need a booster to have the best chance of preventing an omicron infection, but even without the extra dose, the vaccination should still offer strong protection against serious illness and death.

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports

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