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Sports

The NHL halts season, pulls players from Olympics due to COVID-19

Because of an increase in COVID-19 cases, the NHL suspended play until at least Dec. 28.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ellabilu/" target="_self">Ella B.</a>

Ella B.

December 27, 2021
 It is National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman’s worst nightmare — no games will be played in the NHL until at least Dec. 28 due to COVID-19 cases. Now, over a third into the season, the NHL has had to postpone their games and begin their holiday break early. More than 100 players have been placed on the COVID protocol list, sounding an alarm for the NHL’s front office.

There’s a lot of teams that have been in a position where they have to shut down. I would’ve preferred to keep playing,” said NHL veteran-star Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh Penguins captain recently returned from injury, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the league, he’s once again forced to pause his season. 

Well-known players such as Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, and New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal are all currently on the COVID protocol list. 

Back in October, during the season’s opening, Bettman announced that only 4 players in the entire league were unvaccinated.

“Four players, not four percent of players. All of our officials are vaccinated. All of the personnel that come into contact with the players are vaccinated,” Bettman said

Since then, the NHL has narrowed that number down to 1, the sole unvaccinated player — Detroit Red Wings winger Tyler Bertuzzi. Notably, New Jersey Devils starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood started the season unvaccinated, but eventually got the vaccine and is now fully vaccinated

Due to the recent mass of positive tests and rapid spread of the virus among league members, over 50 games have been postponed. The last game played before the pause was on Dec. 21, when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3. 

The abundance of games that have been postponed already will likely take place in the break set for the Olympics. 

Because of the rise of transmission and the emergence of the new, highly-contagious Omicron variant the NHL announced on Dec. 22 that players would not be able to participate in the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. 

In the statement, Bettman said that because of the COVID-related disruption to the NHL schedule already, suspending the season for the Winter Olympics is “no longer feasible.”

The decision came after weeks of speculation around the event. It was earlier reported by several different league journalists including Eliotte Friedman and Pierre LeBrun. Ultimately, it was decided that the risks were just too much. 

The International Olympic Committee announced that if an athlete were to test positive for COVID-19, they could have to be quarantined for up to 5 weeks. Reigning Hart Trophy (MVP) recipient Connor McDavid described the news as, “unsettling.”

When it came to both of these decisions, the NHL had hard decisions to make. Many individuals have been critical of shutting down the league. When arguing, they bring up that the NHL has a very high vaccination rate, most players have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic and that COVID is not going to go away, so the NHL will need to learn how to live with it. 

The National Basketball Association has also been seeing rapid spread among its players and staff, but their commissioner, Adam Silver, does not feel the need to shut down the league.

“We’re finding ourselves where we sort of knew we were going to get to for the past several months, and that is that this virus will not be eradicated and we’re going to have to learn to live with it,” he told ESPN.

Another topic that’s also been popular among the NHL is if they should be testing their asymptomatic, vaccinated players.

I know I’m getting political, but at the end of the day, our players are testing positive with very little symptoms, if any symptoms at all. I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point,” Hockey Hall of Fame Member and Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman said. “So I think we need to take it a step further and question why we are even testing guys that have no symptoms?”

While the NHL takes a break from games, they’ll have plenty of time to figure out what they’re next move is when it comes to fighting COVID-19. For now, fans are just hoping to watch hockey again, soon.