The NHL has postponed any cross-border games through the Dec. 23 start of the holiday break amid the crush of COVID-19 cases in the league, and the chance of the NHL’s presence at the Beijing Olympics appears to be dwindling.
Meanwhile the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens paused all team activities until Dec. 26.
The cross-border decision, made jointly by the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association, was "due to the concern about cross-border travel and, given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions," the league said in release Sunday. It goes into effect Monday.
Sunday’s statement also said that, given the disruption the pandemic has already created in the regular-season schedule, with 27 games postponed as of Saturday, and at least 13 more through Dec. 23, there is concern about the Olympics.
"(With) the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days," the statement said.
In a separate statement Sunday night, the league said the Maple Leafs’ training facilities would be closing. The league and players’ association will determine when to re-open them "in the coming days."
The Leafs have seven players and two coaches in COVID protocol.
The Canadiens also announced a pause of activities "as a preventive measure." Montreal winger Artturi Lehkonen was placed in protocols on Saturday, and Laurent Dauphin was added on Sunday.
The Winnipeg Jets were the only Canadian team playing on Sunday — against visiting St. Louis — after three games involving Canadian teams had already been postponed in a schedule ravaged by the swift rise of cases.
"I think the big thing is when you win a hockey game you want to play the next day," said Jets interim head coach Dave Lowry, after Winnipeg’s 4-2 win. "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 centre Mark Scheifele said the team learned of the postponements moments after their victory.
"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."
Ottawa was scheduled to host Boston on Sunday, while the Leafs were set to play in Seattle, and Vancouver was at home to Arizona. Additional games that have been postponed are a pair of matchups Monday that had Montreal on the road against the New York Islanders, and Edmonton hosting Anaheim.
Ottawa’s home game against St. Louis, and Vancouver’s game at San Jose on Tuesday have been pushed back.
Wednesday’s Canadiens game at the New York Rangers, Winnipeg’s game at Dallas and the Edmonton Oilers’ road game at L.A. have been postponed.
Four games on Thursday have been scrubbed: Toronto’s home game against St. Louis, Ottawa’s game against visiting Carolina, Montreal’s trip to New Jersey, and the Canucks’ game against visiting Anaheim.
"Obviously, there’s border issues and stuff, nothing that we can change," said Blues defenceman Torey Krug. "I think guys just want to play. Most of the guys that are testing positive are sitting at home with not many symptoms and feel pretty good and comfortable to play."
Scheifele called the uncertainty around the Beijing Olympics "concerning."
"Just kind of one of those things you got to kind of take day by day," he said. "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."
The league and players’ association agreed to continue the regular-season schedule after the break.
"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 statement said. "Therefore … medical experts have determined that, with virtually all players and club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis."