NEW YORK — The NHL and its players association temporarily clamped down on teams crossing the Canadian border and shut down operations of a sixth team on Sunday in hopes of salvaging the season as COVID-19 outbreaks spread across the league.
The Detroit Red Wings were added to the list of teams told to shut down operations, joining the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins. Detroit’s home game against Colorado on Monday previously had been postponed and will not take place as scheduled, and the Red Wings’ trip to Minnesota for Thursday's game was called off.
Canadian-based teams will not play U.S.-based teams from Monday through Thursday, with those postponed games expected be rescheduled. The league said in a release the decision was made, in part, because of the “fluid nature of federal travel restrictions.”
All told, 27 games have been postponed through Saturday and 12 more through Thursday will be pushed to another date. Roughly 10% of the 700-plus players were in the league’s virus protocol as of Saturday.
“We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular season schedule,” the NHL and NHLPA said Sunday in a joint statement. “Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness.”
The Winnipeg Jets were the only Canadian team playing Sunday -- hosting and beating St. Louis 4-2 -- after three games involving Canadian teams already were postponed.
“I think the big thing is when you win a hockey game you want to play the next day,” Jets interim coach Dave Lowry said. “This will take us out of it for a couple days. But what it will allow us to do is get back and work on some details in our game that we hope to continue to improve on.”
Jets center Mark Scheifele said the team learned of the postponements moments after the game.
“You never know right now,” he said. “You could see it coming kind of, we weren’t really sure, so obviously we know now and waiting to see what all transpires. We’ll keep rolling with the punches.”
All of the COVID-19 disruptions may lead to NHL players staying home instead of participating in the Winter Olympics in less than two months. The NHL has said players can compete in Beijing unless the coronavirus becomes a problem.
The league has until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Winter Games without financial penalty, but it retains the right to cancel its plans up until players are scheduled to travel to Beijing. The NHL and NHLPA said it will announce a final decision in the coming days.
Scheifele called the uncertainty “concerning.”
“It’s not in our hands anymore, you know what I mean? You just got to trust in the plan and just keep on doing what you do ... and hope for the best," he said.
To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the NHL and the NHLPA agreed to daily testing and other enhanced protocols through Jan. 1, with an evaluation no later than Jan. 7.