Monday, December 20, 2021

A brutal weekend of COVID-19 news, Paul Maurice resigns and I still can’t figure out the Penguins

Well, this is a mess.

There was hockey played in the NHL this weekend, but not much. Certainly nowhere near as much as we were expecting, back in the hazy and distant past before Omicron completely took over the sports world (i.e. last week).

All told, the NHL had ten games scheduled for Saturday but played only five, then managed just four of eight last night. Outbreaks across the league forced the postponement of everything else, with the virus landing particularly hard on the Flames, Bruins, Canucks, Leafs and Predators among others, and most teams having at least one player on the COVID-19 list. Mix in several cases among staff and other personnel, and it feels like almost every team is waiting for the other shoe to drop on their next game.

We’ve also seen reductions in capacity in several Canadian markets, including an empty arena in Montreal on Thursday. That was a depressing sight, one that we all hoped we wouldn’t see again after last year. The league has also ramped up protocols to something very similar to last season, and postponed all cross-border games until Christmas. The fact that we’re back to all that, along with a steady stream of postponements, feels like we’re heading back to a place we thought we’d left behind.

So now what? It’s not a simple question. You could just shut the whole thing down, and maybe that makes sense with the Christmas break already just a few days away. But beyond that, does a league-wide shutdown of a couple of weeks end up buying you time or just delaying the inevitable? It’s not like Omicron is going to be a two-week problem. And as much as the league will say it wants health to be a top priority, it’s hard to imagine the NHL closing its doors for months unless it feels like it has absolutely no other option. We’re not there yet, and yesterday the league and players announced that the plan for now is to push forward. The way this is going, check back in a few hours.

The good news is that, at least so far, nobody seems to be getting all that sick. That might lead some to push for a different approach: Testing less instead of more, or even allowing asymptomatic players to play through a positive result if they’re able. That sound bizarre and dangerous, but it’s an approach we’ve heard rumblings about in the NFL and NBA, and it might be the only way to get through this without losing a massive chunk of the season. Is it worth the risk?

Oh, and the Olympics are supposed to be in six weeks. That’s not much, but in terms of NHL participation, it feels like it might as well be forever. We’re told to expect a decision there in the coming days, and it’s not hard to figure out which direction this is headed — at this point it would be a shock if they still went. Just in case you were looking for more bad news.

By the way, there won’t be any games next weekend. That’s not a doom-and-gloom prediction, thankfully, but a reminder that the holiday break means everyone gets three days off. I’ll still have a rankings column next Monday, but it will be based on less action than usual. Maybe a lot less.

Until then, stay safe and look out for each other. On to this week’s rankings …

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