NHL to briefly pause season starting Wednesday due to COVID-19 concerns

The NHL announced it will briefly pause the season starting Wednesday because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

The league said it will be nearly a week-long pause with the NHL teams starting Christmas break two days earlier than planned. After tonight, the league will take a temporary pause, shutting things down until Monday, Dec. 27.

Only one game is slated for Tuesday night: the Tampa Bay Lightning's match against the Golden Knights. The Washington Capitals vs. the Philadelphia Flyers was postponed due to "COVID-related issues," the NHL announced Tuesday afternoon. 

The Lightning’s game against Arizona on Thursday will be postponed. The decision, reached in coordination with the NHL Players’ Association, means five additional games scheduled for Thursday will be postponed. In total, the NHL has postponed 49 games, the majority of which have happened over the last two weeks because of an alarming spike in cases 

Right now 15% of 700-plus players in the NHL are under COVID-19 protocols and a total of 10 teams have had to shut down their facilities because of high rates of infection. The NHL has also temporarily suspended cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada, and is discussing whether or not to allow players to participate in the upcoming Beijing Olympics. A final decision is expected this week, and the odds of NHL players returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2014 have cratered.

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Teams will then report back for COVID-19 testing and practice on Sunday, a day before games are set to resume. Players and members of each team’s traveling party will be required to test negative before being allowed back in their respective facilities.

The decision to begin the break early comes a day after the NHL and NHLPA issued a joint statement announcing they were attempting to avoid a leaguewide shutdown by making decisions on a team-by-team basis. The holiday break was previously supposed to run from Friday to Sunday.

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

The U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams were set to play a pre-Olympic game Monday night in St. Paul, Minnesota, but that was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.