The holiday break will start early for the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL.
Faced with the impossible task of trying to slow a massive surge in COVID-19 cases, the league has decided to give up on this week. The holiday break, which was scheduled to run from Friday through Sunday, was pushed up to start Wednesday and will run through Saturday, the league announced late Monday.
The vast majority of the originally scheduled games around the NHL this week already had been postponed before the announcement, but one that hadn’t was the Stars-Hawks matchup Thursday at the United Center. That game now will be postponed, too.
Players, coaches, staff and all other members of each team’s traveling party will report to team facilities Sunday rather than Monday for mass testing before hockey activities resume next week, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported.
The leaguewide schedule change came just hours after the Hawks became the NHL’s 24th team to have a player enter COVID-19 protocol, with veteran defenseman Calvin de Haan going on the list.
De Haan is one of 120 NHL players on the COVID list as of Monday night, but he’s the first Hawk on the list since Tyler Johnson and Isaak Phillips came off in early November.
Fortunately, de Haan had been held out of the Hawks’ last two games — Friday against the Predators and Saturday against the Stars — with an illness, even though it was considered non-COVID-related at the time. That, combined with the fact the Hawks didn’t practice Sunday or Monday, hopefully will reduce the likelihood of his infection turning into an outbreak.
‘‘It’s probably driving [the players] nuts that we’re reminding them every day [about] the hygiene part of it and to make sure we do all the right things to follow the protocols,’’ Hawks interim coach Derek King had said before the game Saturday.
The NHL already had tightened safety measures, shut down nine teams with outbreaks through the holiday break and halted U.S.-Canada cross-border travel before Monday, but the new policies proved unable to stop the virus’ spread.
Of the five games originally scheduled for Monday, one — Blues at Stars — took place. Only two of the 10 games originally scheduled for Tuesday are still on, with the Hawks’ matchup against the Panthers among the casualties. The pushed-up holiday break officially will postpone four games Wednesday and 15 more Thursday.
Even after the break, however, much remains uncertain. The Hawks are scheduled to host the Blue Jackets on Dec. 28, visit the Jets on Dec. 29, visit the Predators on Jan. 1 and host the Flames on Jan. 2. But the Jackets, Predators and Flames already had been shut down before Monday because of internal COVID outbreaks, and the game against the Jets would require cross-border travel.
As of now, the Hawks need three home games to be rescheduled. With the NHL looking likely to pull out of the Winter Olympics, the three-week break in February has been floated as a logical time to play postponed games, but arena booking logistics might get in the way.
NOTE: The Hawks sent prospect Josiah Slavin to the American Hockey League on Sunday for playing-time purposes, but there’s a good chance he’ll be called up again once the Hawks resume play.
Slavin has played well despite his lack of production (one point in nine games) and spent much of the game Saturday centering Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat.