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How long are attendance cancellations tenable?

2021 NHL Expansion Draft Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Winnipeg Jets have another game postponed tonight. They will play Thursday and then have more games cancelled in the future. The NHL is surely reaching a point where they will be unable to reschedule all postponed games during the now cancelled Olympic Break and that is an issue.

We can all agree that this current wave of COVID due to the Omicron variant sucks big time and while it makes sense that we are not able to attend games in person, it is hard and weird to see the American-based teams have fans packed in the stands unmasked while Canada has incredibly low capacity limits or fans outright banned from attending games due to public health orders. It is also hard to reconcile all of this going on when it is impossible to see how bad it is inside a hospital for example. It is also hard to explain what schools will look like when we return to in-person learning next week.

Which brings us back to the attendance caps and the NHL. The teams cannot just decide to let fans in. They have to be allowed to from the NHL. At this point that is not happening and probably will not happen in the near future. The Winnipeg Jets, looking to get creative to continue their games, they looked to Saskatchewan where they do not currently any occupancy or attendance restrictions. However, those plans were kiboshed before they were seriously explored.

As we saw with the Montreal Canadiens, the number of players in COVID protocols does not actually seem to have an impact for when the NHL decides to shut down a team at all. You can have most of your team in protocol and you will still play. It is a dumb way of thinking that goes back to the idea that we will all get the Omicron variant of COVID at some point, so it is better that everyone gets sick faster. That is defeatist and also dangerous. Just because most cases seem to be having a lesser impact on people thanks to vaccines does not mean that vulnerable players, staff, and families are not being put at risk for COVID as well. Numerous players have families with young children who cannot be vaccinated. Players who have underlying conditions like asthma are more susceptible to adverse outcomes. And multiple NHLers have had to miss time due to heart conditions brought on by COVID. So actively wanting the league to get infected is a really dangerous idea long term.

It seems like everyone has given up on even trying to mitigate risks when it comes to COVID. Outside of wearing masks indoors and some attendance restrictions in some areas, it feels like a free for all with no worries about who will get sick and how severely. We still have kids who do not have booster shots. We still have kids who have one or no shots in them. We still have vulnerable people who need to be protected because of previous medical conditions and co-morbidities.

The NHL is just letting COVID rip through rosters and without written rules as to when teams and organizations are shut down, it involves a lot of guesswork for what will actually lead to teams being shut down. And the NHL being determined to make as much money as they can this season by postponing games only makes it harder to shut teams down to let them try to control COVID before it makes it so that no one in their organization can play for two weeks.

The NHL has created an untenable situation with COVID delays related to attendance. They made these calls while not realizing that provincial governments in Canada rarely ever do things for more than a month at a time when it comes to COVID-related health rules. Because of this the NHL is playing with fire with seven teams having many games to make up and legitimate very little time to do so. The NHL created this situation and now they have to get themselves out of it.