NHL Will Pause Season as NBA, NFL and EPL Continue to Play, for Now

It seems likely the league will exercise its opt-out clause for player participation in the Beijing Winter Olympics

Vegas Golden Knights Robin Lehner goalie protects the net against the New York Islanders. The NHL recently announced a small pause in its season.
Vegas Golden Knights Robin Lehner goalie protects the net against the New York Islanders.
Bruce Bennett/Getty

Unlike the NFL, NBA and English Premier League, the NHL is going to put its season on pause starting on Wednesday, two days ahead of its planned holiday break, due to a large uptick in positive COVID-19 cases.

Now set to be on ice through December 27 with 11 of its teams already on hold due to COVID-19 outbreaks, the NHL has just three games left to play before the league temporarily ceases operations. Including games affected by the pause, the league has postponed 49 games in all.

As of Monday night, more than 15% of the league’s players were in virus protocols even though there is only one player in the league, Detroit Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who is not vaccinated. While the NHL and NHLPA have recommended the vaccine booster to players, there are no plans to make it a league mandate.

Due to all of the postponed games and the need to make them up in order for the season to finish in a timely manner, the NHL will exercise its opt-out clause for player participation in the Beijing Olympics, per ESPN.

If NHL players do not head to China for the Winter Olympics, Team USA’s roster will be filled with skaters in college or from the American Hockey League, the NHL’s minor league. Players who head to the Games, no matter where they come from, will be required to serve a 21-day quarantine in a Chinese facility if they test positive for COVID-19, a major deterrent for anyone who might be on the fence about participating in the Olympics.

A situation like that will not be a risk for NFL players moving forward as pro football has decided to greatly reduce COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic, vaccinated players heading into 2022. Per the league, 95% of its players and nearly all of the league’s coaching staffs are vaccinated. Despite that, a disturbing number of breakthrough positive cases forced three games to be rescheduled, which is why there will be two Tuesday NFL games this week.

To ensure the league will play on — as scheduled — moving forward, the NFL will put testing, not games, on pause.

“I think the NFL is actually going to be a really interesting and I think really safe real-world experiment on what our new normal is likely going to look like,” Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist and professor at the University of Washington, told The Associated Press. “And, it’s safe to say that the NFL is obviously a large vaccine bubble, sans a few high-profile exceptions. We can’t continue the status quo, ad infinitum, where we are testing regularly people that are otherwise healthy, asymptomatic, triple-vaccinated, just to detect the asymptomatic individual who might be positive because then you’re going to quarantine that individual who might be asymptomatic or having mild symptoms, who is triple-vaccinated, who might for a small period of time, be infectious to others who presumably are also vaccinated.”

On Monday, the NFL had 47 new positive tests, a single-day record, a person familiar with the results told The Washington Post.

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