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The pandemic is striking back on pro sports
With case numbers rising again as the world grapples with the omicron variant, it looks like we could be in for another challenging winter. And if the last few days are any indication, the three active major North American sports leagues might have their hands full too. Here’s what the NHL, NBA and NFL are currently dealing with on the COVID-19 front:
Tonight’s game between Carolina and Minnesota has been postponed after four more Hurricanes players were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Star forward Sebastian Aho was among the two Canes who landed on the list Monday.
This news came a day after three Calgary games were postponed in response to six players and a staff member being placed in the protocol. Three more Flames were added today, despite the team purportedly being fully inoculated. “Our team is 100 per cent vaccinated and some like myself also have a booster,” Milan Lucic, one of the affected players, said on Twitter. Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane — Calgary’s second- and fourth-leading scorers, respectively — were also on the list. Several other players from around the league were added to the protocol today, including Boston star Brad Marchand, Islanders scoring leader Mathew Barzal and Vancouver’s Luke Schenn and Juho Lammikko. Last month, the Islanders and Senators both had multiple games postponed due to outbreaks.
None of this bodes well for the chances of NHL players participating in the Beijing Olympics this February. The league and the players’ union have an out clause that allows them to pull out if COVID-19 conditions make going to Beijing “impractical or unsafe.” They have until Jan. 10 to bail without financial penalty. Commissioner Gary Bettman insists the decision will ultimately be up to the players, so hockey fans have been nervously parsing stars’ Olympic-related comments.
Over the last few days, several high-profile players who were expected to compete for their countries have expressed concerns about travelling to China given the host country’s strict quarantine rules for anyone who tests positive for the virus. Canada’s Connor McDavid, John Tavares and Alex Pietrangelo, and American Auston Matthews all basically said they feel uneasy right now but want to wait and see how things shake out in the next little while. So far, the only big-name player to announce he’s definitely not going is Swedish goalie Robin Lehner, who cited the potential impact a long quarantine could have on his mental health.
Another ominous signal, from the sports-betting markets: the respected bookmaker Pinnacle now lists Russia as a (very slight) favourite over Canada to win the Olympic men’s tournament. The Russians can’t match Canada in a “best on best” event. But they have a strong domestic league and they won gold at the 2018 Olympics, which the NHL skipped. So this is essentially bettors putting their money on NHL players not going to Beijing. Read more about the comments by McDavid and other stars here.
The Toronto Raptors were one of the teams affected by the postponement of two Chicago Bulls games this week — the first time this season that the virus has cost the NBA any dates. Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan was one of 10 Bulls players placed in protocol.
Tonight’s Raptors home game vs. Brooklyn is set to go ahead but is also being impacted by the virus. Five Nets players have been ruled out due to COVID-19 protocols, including starters LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre’ Bembry. And, of course, Brooklyn star Kyrie Irving has yet to play for the team this season after refusing to get vaccinated.
The league and its players’ union are considering tightening up their coronavirus protocols after a whopping 37 players tested positive on Monday alone. Another 25 reportedly tested positive today. This prompted the NFL to send a memo to every team yesterday ordering that all coaches, trainers, front-office people and other essential-type staffers get their booster shots by Dec. 27 (players are not included in the order).
A handful of teams have reportedly entered the NFL’s “enhanced” COVID-19 protocols — Atlanta, Detroit, Minnesota, Chicago, Washington and the L.A. Rams, whose star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., reportedly tested positive after last night’s game vs. Arizona. Cleveland placed eight players on its COVID-19 list today, including top receiver Jarvis Landry. Not a great sign for the playoffs, which are just a month away. Read more about the NFL’s new measures here.
Steph Curry is about to set the NBA’s all-time record for three-pointers. It’s a testament to both the Golden State star’s generational shooting skills and the impact of basketball’s three-point revolution that he’s in this position at the relatively young age of 33 and in just his 13th season. The man Curry is about to pass, Ray Allen, spent 18 seasons in the league and played until he was 38. But Curry needs just two more treys to break Allen’s record of 2,973. As luck would have it, Curry can do it on the sport’s greatest stage, New York’s Madison Square Garden, where his NBA-best Warriors visit the Knicks tonight.
The opening ceremony for the Paris Olympics is going to be very different. Forget shirtless Tongan flag-bearers. Organizers of the 2024 Summer Games are going to even greater lengths to spice up their show. They announced yesterday that it’ll be held on the Seine river, which flows through Paris. Rather than parade into a stadium on foot, each country’s athletes will travel the river on a boat, passing such landmarks as Notre-Dame cathedral and the Louvre. Around 600,000 spectators are expected to line the route — about 10x the audience for a typical opener ceremony. Read more about the concept here. And here’s an artist’s rendering of how it might look:
Coming up on CBC Sports
Here’s what you can live-stream on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem on Tuesday evening and Wednesday:
Junior hockey: Watch the Saskatoon Blades face the Moose Jaw Warriors in a battle of WHL Eastern Conference rivals tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
Basketball Champions League Americas — Edmonton Stingers vs. Cangrejeros: The Canadian Elite Basketball League champs won their debut in this competition last night, beating a Nicaraguan team. Tonight they play a squad from Puerto Rico. Watch the game at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Ski cross: Watch the team event at this week’s World Cup stop in Switzerland on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET.
Speed skating: Canadians have won a total of 24 medals in the first four World Cup stops of the season. The circuit is on pause until after the Olympics, but Canada will try to keep the momentum going at the Four Continents Championships in Calgary. This event is basically the rest of the world’s answer to the European championships. Watch live races starting Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.