SUNRISE, Fla, – As COVID-19 cases continue to spike across North America, the NHL has decided to take action on a fairly large scale.
The league announced Monday night that it would begin its annual holiday break early, postponing an additional five games that had been scheduled for later this week.
That will make a grand total of 49 games postponed due to Covid.
Currently two games are scheduled for Tuesday night – Washington at Philly and Tampa Bay at Vegas.
There were nine teams that had their facilities closed over the past week due to COVID-19, including the Florida Panthers. The others are Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Colorado, Columbus, Boston, Nashville, and Detroit.
Calgary previously had their facilities closed but were able to reopen on Monday to those who tested negative for Covid.
The NHL’s holiday break will now begin with the conclusion of play on Tuesday and run through Christmas Day.
On Dec. 26, players will report back to their respective clubs for testing, practice and/or travel. If a team chooses to hold a practice, it cannot begin before 2 p.m.
No one will be permitted to enter a team facility without a negative test result.
The Panthers next scheduled game is on Dec. 27 at 7 p.m. in Carolina. That means Dec. 26 will almost certainly be a travel day.
If the team is healthy enough to resume its schedule against the Hurricanes, it makes sense that interim coach Andrew Brunette would also want to hold a practice on the 26th and give his players an opportunity to shake off any rust that may have accumulated during the extended break.
Florida had several players who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, and while most were asymptomatic, not all were spared from suffering some of the symptoms that are consistent with those who contract the virus.
Fortunately, according to a source, those with symptoms saw them begin to subside after a day or two.
A total of seven Panthers players were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols last week. They were Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe, Ryan Lomberg, Radko Gudas and Frank Vatrano.
The team has not offered any updates on those players since its facilities were closed on Friday, though at practice that morning, along with the players in the Covid protocols, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was also not present and wasn’t expected to play in Florida’s game at Minnesota on Saturday.
The game was postponed, along with games on Dec. 21 at Chicago and Dec. 23 against Nashville.
If the Panthers do practice on Dec. 26, it will give a good look into the team’s health situation heading into the resumption of the season.
One positive in the extended break is that it allows for Florida’s injured players to heal.
Forwards Sasha Barkov, Maxim Mamin and Mason Marchment could all be ready to join the lineup when games resume next week. Defenseman Gus Forsling, who missed time with a non-Covid illness, should be back on the ice as well.
Those additions could prove extremely helpful, depending on the status of the players who were placed in the Covid protocol.