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NHL grappling with COVID-19 as protocol total reaches 30 players

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The NHL's efforts to keep COVID-19 at bay are failing.

With another handful forced to enter protocol Tuesday, including stars Brad Marchand and Mat Barzal, there are now upwards of 30 players sidelined with COVID-19, threatening both the legitimacy of games and overall schedule.

Following the string of individual announcements, Tuesday's game between the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild has been officially postponed with the Hurricanes dealing with transmission in their locker room and a shortage of players. It's also believed that the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs could see a postponement as teams continue to scramble to assemble healthy roster players and officials sort through administered tests and other data.

CALGARY, AB - DECEMBER 09: Calgary Flames Right Wing Andrew Mangiapane (88) skates during the first period of an NHL game where the Calgary Flames hosted the Carolina Hurricanes on December 9, 2021, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Calgary Flames are one of several NHL teams struggling with COVID-19. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This latest wave of positive test results comes with the Calgary Flames temporarily shut down due to COVID-19 transmission. The New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators have previously had to shut down operations to curb an internal spread.

Hurricanes defenceman Jaccob Slavin expressed some of the concern — and the troubling mindset — held by some players travelling across the border before the team's matchup with the Wild was shelved. Carolina is coming off a win over the Flames as well as stops in Edmonton and Vancouver.

The NHL is rapidly reaching a crisis point with COVID-19 infections continuing to rise. It's very much a nuisance rather than a health catastrophe, as nearly every player is fully vaccinated and therefore able to overcome the situation without much concern. Still, its presence continues to threaten the schedule, and of course the prospects of players going to the Olympics, because players who test positive — asymptomatic or not — must sit out.

Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that COVID-19 and its many rapidly transferable variants cannot be contained unless the NHL is operating in a bubble-like scenario. Without amendments to the regulations outlined for this season, players will continue to be infected and sidelined, and games will be postponed.

Clearly the NHL needs to implement an emergency taxi squad system as soon as possible, but the more pressing questions the NHL faces now are:

A) can new rules be outlined for asymptomatic players?

B) will a hiatus help matters?

Intuitively, it seems the former is a slippery and dangerous slope.

When it comes to a break — which will surely wash away any chance of Olympic participation — it seems that it will only delay the inevitable, which is COVID-19 returning to infect players and throw the schedule into chaos.

Troubling times indeed.

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