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Blaming Omicron variant, NHL resumes daily COVID-19 testing

An empty Bell Centre in Montreal on Thursday before a game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Philadelphia Flyers.
(Graham Hughes / Canadian Press)

The NHL reintroduced stricter COVID-19 protocols Saturday that include daily testing and other steps in a bid to limit a growing outbreak among players and team personnel.

The enhanced protocols will take effect immediately and last through Jan. 1, with an evaluation of their impact no later than Jan. 7, the league said. The move follows discussions between the NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. as virus conditions worsen across North America.

Three teams — Calgary, Colorado and Florida — are virtually shut down through next week because of virus cases. Approximately 70 players — 10% of the 700 leaguewide — are in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols and the number of games postponed this season has climbed to 20.

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Several Canadian provinces are now limiting or will soon limit attendance at large events like NHL games to 50% of capacity.

The surge of the Omicron variant has pushed the world back into a state of uncertainty and is compromising the quality of competition in every sport.

Besides the daily testing for players and coaches, “additional pre-game testing may be implemented, on a case-by-case basis, when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team,” the NHL announcement said.

The league said the Omicron variant is responsible for the uptick in cases.

“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.

Moments after the announcement, Detroit placed three players, coach Jeff Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay in the protocols ahead of Saturday night’s home game against New Jersey. The Red Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi is the only player in the league who is not vaccinated.

The NFL delayed Sunday’s game between the Rams and Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium to Tuesday because of COVID-19 issues affecting each team.

While postponed games may be rescheduled, all eyes on are the calendar: The NHL plans to allow its players to participate in the Winter Olympics in China in February — unless COVID-19 disruptions prove to be too much.

The NHL has until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Winter Games without financial penalty, but retains the right to cancel its plans up until the time players are scheduled to travel to Beijing.


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