(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) and its players’ union (NHLPA) have agreed to postpone five more games amid rising COVID-19 cases at teams and bring the holiday break forward to begin after Tuesday’s slate of games.
With the latest postponements taking the total to 49 games, the NHL and NHLPA said in Monday’s statement that the regular season would resume on Dec. 27.
The league was originally set to shut down from Friday to Sunday for Christmas.
Under the revised schedule, Dec. 22-25 will be off-days for all purposes, including travel, and players will report back to their teams on Dec. 26 for testing, travel and practice.
Earlier on Monday, the league shut down the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens at least through Dec. 26, with nine of the league’s 32 teams now paused.
The NHL said the Blue Jackets’ games against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday and Thursday were postponed. Montreal’s remaining games before the original break had already been postponed.
The league added that New Jersey Devils’ game at Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday had also been postponed.
The NHL said the decision to shut down the Blue Jackets and Canadiens was made in consultation with the players’ body and team medical groups.
The move to shut the teams down comes a day after the NHL said cross-border games would be postponed through the holiday break due to the concern about travel and “the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions”.
COVID-19 cases surged across the United States over the weekend with the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus becoming dominant with lightning speed.
Case numbers are also rapidly increasing in Canada, with several of its 10 provinces reporting big jumps as Omicron replaces Delta as the dominant variant.
The NHL had already shut down the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers because of the rising number of players testing positive.
The U.S. women’s team had also cancelled a game against Canada in Minnesota on Monday.
The disruptions to the NHL schedule cloud the league’s plans to send the world’s top players to the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics.
The NHL agreed to a break in its schedule to allow players to compete in Beijing with the caveat that it could withdraw on its own if an abundance of COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympic window.
The NHL and NHLPA said on Sunday they were in discussions and expect to make a decision in the coming days about whether to participate in the Beijing Games.
The NHL has until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics without financial penalty.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford)