The Tampa Bay Lightning's west coast trip will begin a little later than originally planned as their game against the Colorado Avalanche that was scheduled for tonight has been postponed. Despite missing five players (Andre Burakovsky, J.T. Compher, Darcy Kuemper, Cale Makar, and Devon Toews) the Avalanche played Thursday night, but now the league has decided to postpone their games through the Christmas break. They aren’t the only team as the NHL has also delayed the Florida Panthers schedule. The Calgary Flames, who currently have 31 members (including 19 players) of the organization in protocol were already having games pushed back.
For the Lightning, who so far have avoided putting anyone into COVID protocols this season (knock on wood), it delays the start of their trip out west. They are still planning to head out to take on the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday and Arizona Coyotes on Thursday before the Christmas break. As an added precaution the league is returning to an enhanced virus protocol reminiscent of last season that includes daily testing, virtual meetings, and more isolation on road trips.
While the season isn’t in jeopardy quite yet, it will be interesting to see how the league deals with the postponed games that are starting to pile up quite rapidly. With a season already complicated by an Olympic break in February, there isn’t much room to add more than a few games into the back half of the roster. It might be possible to schedule some make-up dates in February if the players decide not to attend the games in China, but building availability might be at a premium.
Some arenas undoubtedly booked up the open nights when the league announced that they would attend the Winter Games earlier this year. It’s likely that a few places have concerts or events scheduled which could preclude them from hosting a game. A quick look at Amalie Arena’s Event Calendar shows that there are quite a few open spots, though. Maybe the schedule makers will flip some things around and have teams play in neutral sites or swap home games (i.e. the Avalanche would be the “home” team against the Lightning in Tampa). One thing the league and the owners would like to avoid at all costs is shutting down the season all together.
The provinces in Canada have already put into place requirements that limit capacity with the Toronto Maple Leafs reducing capacity to 50% and the Montreal Canadiens played a game last night against the Philadelphia Flyers in an empty arena. Things are pretty much progressing on a day-to-day basis in all major sports (the NFL has postponed games this weekend as their teams deal with multiple players in COVID protocols as well).
Lightning / NHL News
The Lightning weren’t the only team in the organization that had their weekend plans changed. The Syracuse Crunch also have seen games against Belleville and Laval postponed. While Belleville is dealing with some players in protocol, Laval is not. However, there is some concern that they may get stuck in Syracuse if Canada enacts stricter travel regulations in order to deal with the recent rise in positive cases. The Crunch also following enhanced protocols, most likely due to the fact that they just played the Toronto Marlies, a team that has had several players test positive.
The Orlando Solar Bears did play last night as they beat the Allen Americans, 6-2, despite dressing just 13 skaters.
In a sign that the Tampa Bay Lightning are happy with the defense (and that Erik Cernak might be close to returning) Fredrik Claesson was placed on waivers. It’s expected he’ll clear later today and make it back to Syracuse. Still, a team that is desperate for players due to COVID-related roster issues may take a flyer on the the defenseman.
It seems the NHL is still planning on holding the Winter Classic on January 1st as they build the rink in Minnesota. Who knows, maybe everyone will be playing outdoors next year.
As positive COVID cases increase across the country and the world maybe it’s a good idea to return to some of those things that helped dampen the impact of the virus earlier this year. Bust out those masks in public areas and, if you’re interest in getting a booster, go get one. The Hillsbrough County Public Safety Site has links for finding locations for vaccines. It’s likely that the local government health sites in your location has vaccine finder tools available as well. While getting boosted won’t totally eliminate the chance of getting the virus it has proven to lessen the effects and it will help stop the spread.