COVID-19 has ran rampant through the NHL and the league, teams, and player’s union has been reacting quickly as cases increase and situations unfold. The NHL schedule has become fluid by necessity. This has impacted the New Jersey Devils directly again.
Yesterday afternoon, it was announced by the league that they will not allow teams to cross the border between Canada and the United States from December 20 through December 23. This meant that the Devils’ home game against Montreal on December 23 was postponed. This game will be rescheduled and tickets for this game will be honored.
Earlier today, it was announced that the league is also postponing tomorrow’s schedule game between the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The statement from the league is below:
SCHEDULE UPDATE: @NHL postpones tomorrow’s @NJDevils vs. @Penguins game. https://t.co/FhWrKNDe7l pic.twitter.com/mLARHYVhit— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 20, 2021
The statement about COVID-related issues affecting the Devils is a bit odd. Earlier today, Nico Hischier, Ryan Graves, and Jesper Boqvist participated in an optional skate at noon. All three were in the COVID-19 protocol. Presumably, they were cleared to return. What is the issue? Corey Masisak (not Shayna Goldman) of The Athletic ($), whom is now covering San Jose, found out the problem: availability from Utica.
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said he doesn’t expect the team to have more positive COVID-19 tests. Said he asked the league to postpone b/c they have a bunch of other non-COVID positive players who are sick that are being asked to play too much and they can’t add from Utica.— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) December 20, 2021
It is true that the Devils have been ill. Mackenzie Blackwood was ill on Tuesday night when Lindy Ruff started him. Jesper Bratt was a late scratch in Detroit due to illness. It is possible others have not been well either. Utica (and other AHL) teams are dealing with COVID-19 protocol additions as well. Fitzgerald did bring this up with the NHL prior to the Detroit game; but they agreed to the postponement after the weekend per Masisak. This would also partially explain their shorthanded roster in Detroit, although the team was able to add Chase De Leo for Sunday’s game and Bratt was healthy enough to play. At the least, there are no new additions from New Jersey to the COVID-19 protocol at the moment.
Either way, the Devils are effectively off until next Monday. They will be in St. Louis per their original schedule. I think the league is hoping that the additional time will allow more players and personnel to either recover or be cleared to return, such that teams will not have shortened rosters. As of this writing, nothing beyond December 23 on the schedule has been impacted. The Pittsburgh and Montreal games will be re-scheduled. It remains to be seen as to when. If / when the NHL announces they are not going to Beijing (I don’t see how they can at this point), it could be in February. We shall see. For the time being, their game in St. Louis is on. That will be the next time we will see them play and hopefully (please) end their six-game losing streak.
What will the Devils do in the meantime? Primarily, recover physically and mentally. The Devils have been slumping and playing a lot. Not having to play and possibly lose two more games in the next three days may be a welcome respite. Time off alone will not cure what ails the Devils. Yet, it cannot hurt.
It is also a good time for management to sit down and seriously evaluate what has been happening. Presuming that they have not already done so. While the league will shut down from Friday through Sunday for Christmas and Boxing Day, there is now time for the Devils to make changes if they see fit. I am going to gently suggest that they strongly consider some.
What do you make of the news? Will things be better on December 27? Please leave your thoughts and reactions below.
Shut Down Update: The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to shut down the season from December 22 to December 26 per Elliotte Friedman. Tomorrow’s games will happen. Wednesday’s games were already postponed. Basically, the holiday break is now five days instead of the originally scheduled three. No practices, no team activities, and obviously no games. And anyone who comes back to the team’s facilities after the break better test negative. Hopefully, this mitigates the current outbreak.
As per Andy Strickland, the current February break in the schedule will be used for make-up games. I would expect an official announcement soon about NHL players not participating in the Olympics.