The NHL has been dealing with an increasing number of COVID-19 cases that have forced the league to cancel games and stop team activities. Now, the entire league will take at least a short break in an effort to allow the situation to settle down before games continue.

NHL COVID-19 Christmas pause
The Montreal Canadians were among four teams to shut down team activities on Monday, adding to the growing number of NHL squads dealing with COVID-19 issues. (Image: Graham Hughes/CP)

ESPN reports that the NHL plans to pause its season on Wednesday, two days earlier than a planned break in its schedule for Christmas.

15% of players currently in COVID-19 protocols

The ESPN report cited sources who say the NHL will shut all team facilities from Dec. 22 through Dec. 25. Players will report back to their teams on Dec. 26, at which point they will take daily COVID-19 tests again. Teams begin playing games again on Dec. 27, at least according to the current schedule.

Over the past week, 11 teams have suspended operations. League officials said they hoped to avoid a complete shutdown of the league. The NHL has also postponed all games that involve travel between Canada and the United States through Christmas.

As of Monday night, more than 15% of all NHL players were in the league’s COVID-19 protocol, according to ESPN. The Columbus Blue Jackets, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators all shut down operations on Monday to add to the list of teams who cannot play or practice at the moment.

Monday’s schedule showed the impact of these shutdowns. Originally, five games appeared on the Monday night slate. However, only one NHL game took place on Monday, as the Dallas Stars hosted the Minnesota Wild. Currently, two games are still on tap for Tuesday: the Washington Capitals will take on the Philadelphia Flyers, while the Vegas Golden Knights host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With the decision to pause the season for four days, the NHL has now postponed at least 49 games this year.

Increased protocols in place for players, coaches

Even before the planned pause, the league had implemented increased protocols for teams, including daily testing of players and coaches, with the potential for additional pregame testing on a case-by-case basis.

“Given the increased number of positive cases in our league within the last two weeks, and changing societal realities with the new omicron COVID-19 variant, the NHLPA and NHL have collectively agreed that all Clubs shall be required to follow enhanced preventative and detection measures,” the league said in a statement.

The pause will impact bettors, though only in minimal ways. Most sportsbooks will void action on games that aren’t played on their original date and will refund all wagers on those contests.

It’s unclear as to whether all 32 NHL teams will return to action after the Christmas break. The NHL’s Olympic participation also remains up in the air. When the NHLPA and NHL agreed to allow players to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics, the decision was dependent on the league avoiding major disruptions due to COVID-19.

If the NHL wants to cancel its Olympic participation, it can do so at any time. However, it must drop out by Jan. 10 if it wishes to avoid financial penalties.