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How will the NHL Pause Impact the Rest of the Season?

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

When the NHL announced an regular 82 game season, spectators in the stands and no conference bubble fans and players were overjoyed. The 2020 – 2021 season experienced a game cut, no fans in the arenas and teams only playing other tri-state teams. While it was great that hockey was back, it was not the same. The 2021 – 2022 season meant that hockey was now back in full force and fans cold once again experience the sport they love. During the beginning of the season games were played and few players were placed in Covid protocol. It seemed that the season would be able to continue, and players would be able to participate in the 2022 Olympics. However, in November player Covid cases began to increase in the league and teams like the New York Islanders had to reschedule games due to outbreaks. The Montreal Canadians did not let fans into the arena in their game against the Philadelphia Flyers over the spike in cases.

This week, the NHL became the first league to press pause on the 2021 - 2022 season due to concerns of rising Covid case. The NBA and NFL have also seen a surge in Covid cases but neither have placed a pause on their seasons. Historically the NHL schedules a three-day Christmas break when no regular season games are played on either Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, the league has stopped all operations on Wednesday December 22nd. This week alone, 11 teams suspended operations and the league postponed all games through Christmas that involved travel between Canada and the U.S. Over 15% of the league's players were in virus protocols as of Monday December 20th.[1] The pause will be from Wednesday through Saturday to control the Covid outbreaks that are happening around the league.[2] Players, coaches and other team staff cannot report to facilities during the pause. Players are set to report back to team facilities on Sunday and resume daily testing. The NHL schedule is set to resume on Dec. 27.[3]

As a result of the pause, 50 games had to be postponed which is a material damage to the schedule which triggers an opt-out clause for player participation in the Beijing Olympics.[4] The NHL announced that players will not be allowed to participate in the Olympics due to Covid concerns. The biggest question now: what will happen to the remainder of the NHL season? Will it be like 2020 when the season was suspended then reinstated in July? Or will the NHL come up with a solution to keep the season going? As of right now there is no answer to either of those questions. The NHL did put into place new Covid protocols. Players and staff are now subject to daily Covid testing, instead of once every three days. Social distancing measures have also been reinstated as well as restrictions on where players can go when they are not at home.[5] Every player in the league is currently vaccinated against Covid except for Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi. As of right now the NHL and NHLPA have recommended the vaccine booster to players but do not have plans to mandate it.[6]

Like other hockey fans, my hope is that players and staff stay safe, and the NHL will be able to finish the season.

Jessica Shaw is the Secretary of the New York Law School Sports Law Society. She can be reached on Twitter @JessicaShaw22.

[1] Kaplan, E. (December 21. 2021). NHL to pause season Wednesday, resume as scheduled after Christmas break, amid covid-19 cases. ESPN. [2] Id. [3] Id. [4] Id. [5] Id. [6] Id.

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