Maple Leafs place Wayne Simmonds, Jason Spezza into COVID-19 protocols

Faizal Khamisa and Elliotte Friedman discuss whether a pause in the NHL is looming amidst the rise in Covid-19 cases, whether the Olympic decision will be impacted, and if players have the power to influence the league's decision.

Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza were added to the league's COVID-19 protocols late Friday night, broadening the scope of the Toronto Maple Leafs' current struggles with the virus to four players.

Toronto did not immediately offer an update on the well-being of either player.

The Maple Leafs had been largely spared by this latest surge in COVID-19 until Friday morning, when captain John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot were placed in protocols.

After the Maple Leafs learned of the status of Tavares and Kerfoot, the team cancelled its practice at the University of British Columbia as a precaution.

“Since we came out west to Edmonton, I've haven’t left my hotel except for going for walks,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said this week. “Frankly, my priority right now is to get back to Toronto in time for Christmas healthy and safe. Get back to my family. I think everybody is like that.

“It’s even extra challenging being on the road right now, because I don’t want to be stuck here through Christmas. So, there’s lots of reasons to be smart right now.”

Players and travelling staff for the Maple Leafs were tested Thursday and underwent additional testing on Friday ahead of Saturday's game against the Vancouver Canucks.

At this time, there has been no word from the league that the game is at risk of being postponed, though as the last week in the NHL has shown, the situation is fluid and could change rapidly.

“It sucks. It definitely sucks,” Simmonds said earlier this week, before any of the Maple Leafs entered protocols. “This feels like this has become the fourth wave now. I know NFL had something like 37 guys test positive in one day, and now our league's being hit pretty hard by it. So, we got to be smart about it, and the league will make the right decision.”

Much of the recent influx in positive tests is believed to be driven by the Omicron variant.

Research on Omicron, which was first identified in November in Botswana and South Africa, is still developing. However, since its initial discovery, the data so far show it is highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus -- allowing it to spread even among populations with high vaccination rates like the NHL, where several precautions are being taken reduce transmission.

Early Omicron cases have raised hopes that the variant might cause milder disease than other variants, though it is too soon in the research process to know definitively if that trend will continue.

Several studies so far have indicated that full vaccination plus a booster shot provides strong protection against infection from Omicron.

The Maple Leafs last played in Edmonton on Tuesday, facing an Oilers team that has experienced a steady increase to the number of its players in protocol. On Friday, both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Duncan Keith joined the list, bringing the total number of players and staff sidelined to five.

Toronto did not play against Calgary on Thursday, with several Flames games having been postponed amid an outbreak in the organization.

The majority of NHLers who have tested positive, at this time, are believed to be asymptomatic.

Editor's Note: The COVID-19 situation, in the NHL and around the world, is constantly evolving. Readers in Canada can consult the country's public health website for the latest.

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