NHL COVID restrictive measures leads to more cancellations, Canada closing its border, early Christmas Break, no Olympics, plus a look at hockey history nicknames

In predictable news that was expected, the NHL’s new COVID restrictive measures lead to more cancellations. With spikes in COVID due to the new Omicron variant, Canada also decided to close its border. That means no games between American teams and Canadian teams.

For how long nobody knows. Ultimately, with a dramatic increase in players testing positive around the league, the NHL decided to pause play earlier. Only one game was played on Tuesday night with the Lightning completing a come from behind 4-3 win over the Golden Knights in a potential Stanley Cup preview at T-Mobile Arena. At least it was a proper sendoff for hockey fans who could see it (thanks ESPN). I watched on NHL 66. It was worth it.

As Hasan detailed in his previous post yesterday, the Christmas Break comes early for hockey. With as many as 50 games postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak stemming from the contagious Omicron variant, that means the NHL and NHLPA had to reexamine Olympic participation. With so many games needing to be made up, the best solution was opening up February when they were supposed to be on break for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Confirming the obvious, the NHL and NHLPA announced that they won’t be participating in Beijing. It’s just as well. Given all the unknowns about the pandemic along with the possibility of a player who tests positive having to quarantine for three weeks due to China policy, it never made sense to go. I’ll withhold my opinion on their country because this isn’t the right forum. I’ll only say I feel for Peng Shuai. A tennis star athlete who sure represented China well.

Obviously, the Rangers don’t have a game tonight on December 22 against the Canadiens. Instead, they have the entire week off including the traditional Christmas break through the weekend. Their next scheduled game is home for the improved Red Wings on Monday, 12/27. That is expected to be played. The NHL revealed that teams could return to practice on Boxing Day. The same day the World Junior Championships get underway in Red Deer and Edmonton. I can only wish the kids who are partaking for their respective countries the very best. It truly is a great tournament. NHL Network will have coverage.

If you love following prospects as much as I do, check it out. There won’t be any other hockey on December 26. I’ll have a preview up on Hockey Prospects. I’ll also link it up here. Let’s call it a Christmas present. If your team is not looking playoff bound such as the Devils, then there’s gotta be prospects playing in the U20 IIHF WJC. Due to the pandemic, there will only be one exhibition game for each country. Let’s hope there aren’t any issues in the bitter cold out in Northwestern Canada.

Is it disappointing that we won’t see NHL players take part in the Olympic Games? Of course. We’ve gotten used to seeing our favorite stars play for their country since ’98 in Nagano. The Dominik Hasek Tournament. That’s what I refer to it as. The ’02 Games in Salt Lake City were memorable. Who would’ve ever thought we’d see USA challenge Canada for gold? While they did fall short, it was fun to see Mike Richter go up against Martin Brodeur one final time. You had other memorable moments like Henrik Lundqvist with the save on Olli Jokinen in ’06 Torino to win gold for Sweden. Zach Parise force sudden death in 2010 before Sidney Crosby beat Ryan Miller to win gold again for Canada.

There sure have been some great headlines to come from NHL participation in the Winter Games. Now, it’s about what’s best for business. Having lost so many games already, there was no realistic way for the league to make it work. We didn’t know what could’ve lied ahead. For any athlete participating in Beijing, I can only wish them the best. The same unknowns apply to any participant who’s made every sacrifice to chase their Olympic dreams.

With hardly any hockey the past couple of days, it’s given me time to see my best friend who traveled back from North Carolina to visit his family and friends. He isn’t vaccinated. That’s his choice. The thing about it is I respect people’s choices. That’s part of who I am. He chose to do what was best for his family which includes two great boys including one who shares a birthday with me. An ironic coincidence. Even though we couldn’t do much, we met up last night near our old grammar school and caught up for a while outside. All the same, it was great to see him. Family and Inner Circle are what matters most in life. Let’s not forget that.

As for hockey, NHL Network showed the classic documentary The NHL: 100 Years. That was great to re-watch. I absolutely love how they document the history of the NHL from its inception to surviving once the Original Six became established post World War II. People forget there were other teams like the New York Americans, Montreal Maroons, Pittsburgh Pirates who played. Ultimately, they didn’t survive. What they were left with were the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.

I feel like the history of the NHL isn’t discussed enough. Unless you’re like me or buddy Sean McCaffrey, who did a book on the full history of the Rangers which is ignored by Madison Square Garden like the plague, the unique past of the sport we love is something to behold. Don’t forget there were the original Ottawa Senators who were champions too. I highly recommend The NHL: 100 Years to any devoted puck fan. Think about classic names such as Eddie Shore, Bill and Bun Cook, Frank Boucher, Howie Morentz, Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, Red Kelly, Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk, etc. There’s too many to list.

It makes me fully appreciate that I interned for U.S. Hockey Hall Of Famer Stan Fischler. Being up in his old apartment in Harlem, I was always mesmerized by all the hockey books and his other passion of trains when I made the trip from my Staten Island home that’s closer to the Outer Bridge than Manhattan. I never would’ve known about Frank Mahovlich or his brother Pete. Or been to Nassau Coliseum for a morning skate and taken in hockey history even if it was at enemy territory. I think it’s poetic that I wound up working production truck for the Devils in ’00-01. I wasn’t afraid to talk to Martin Brodeur or legendary Larry Robinson or joke around with Doc Emrick and Chico Resch.

I learned a lot under Fischler, who deserves his rightful place in Toronto as well. But as I know all too well from the bias with the Hockey Hall Of Fame that inducted noted Selke winner Guy Carbonneau before much better players such as Alexander Mogilny and Jeremy Roenick as well as the much overlooked Steve Larmer, it’s expected. They don’t always do what’s right. To me, Stan The Man will always be a legend. The Maven doesn’t need a plaque in Toronto. I saw how dedicated he is and astonishingly still is while living with grandchildren in Israel. His enthusiasm and charm are characteristics you can’t teach.

We could reference The Bread Line or Sauerkraut Line. I listed The Production Line above. You know. Nicknames for great lines used to be a hockey tradition. The Perfection Line just isn’t it. How about the New England Clam Chowder Line? Or the Killer B’s Line. What about the Avalanche of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen? What should they be called? Probably are the most dominant line in the current game. I guess I’m a sucker for cool nicknames. Maybe we need to again be more creative. Not just with The Rat, Brad Marchand.

There’s so much talent in today’s game. The unconscionable duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. The Great Eight, Alexander Ovechkin, who continues to chase Wayne Gretzky. Sidney Crosby is no longer Sid The Kid. But still plays the game well enough to lead a surprising bunch of Pens. What about Auston Matthews? Shouldn’t someone with his remarkable release have a nickname? You got Bread Man for Artemi Panarin. Steven Stamkos is Stammer in Tampa. Following last night’s rocket from his office on the power play, I referred to him as Stammer The Hammer.

What would you call Andrei Vasilevskiy? I watch a lot of Bolts games and it’s his stellar play in net that has Tampa right at the top in the East despite no Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point. Is he merely Vasy or Kitty as most diehard Lightning fans refer to him as? His reflexes are quick like a cat. Maybe that works. Other goalies have better numbers this season. Nobody is more valuable than Vasilevskiy is to their team. Maybe except Carey Price. I had to. Look at how miserable the Canadiens are without him.

Nicknames for the game’s best are fun. In the 90’s, you had The Russian Rocket for Pavel Bure and Golden Brett for Brett Hull. The Big E for Eric Lindros. Moose for Mark Messier. The Great One for Gretzky obviously. Super Mario for Mario Lemieux which was cool if you loved Nintendo. It worked. Finnish Flash for Teemu Selanne. Alexander The Great by legendary Sabres’ announcer Rick Jeanneret for Mogilny.

The Next Generation is here with Trevor Zegras front and center. I think I’m going to go with Mr. Unpredictable or The Highlight Machine. Lucas Raymond is silky smooth in Detroit. How was he behind Alexis Lafreniere again? Sorry Laf. He’s gonna have to prove himself. I like Tim Stutzle in Ottawa. Terrific skater with great moves and a dynamite shot. Is Moritz Seider still off the board? Looks like the Red Wings knew as did Steve Yzerman. No wonder they’re in the mix.

There are many exciting stories so far. Not just the Rangers being relevant again. But teams like the Ducks being led by Zegras, Troy Terry and Jamie Drysdale. The surprising Sharks behind James Reimer, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture and the reemergence of Erik Karlsson. The Canucks suddenly winning again due to Bruce “There It Is” Boudreau and Thatcher Demko. Who had the Flames being good? Johnny Gaudreau sure is gonna make them pay along with Matthew Tkachuk.

There also was the sudden departure of Paul Maurice in Winnipeg, who just felt it was time for a new voice. Only time will tell if he’s right. Dave Lowry takes over. Kyle Connor is a superstar and Connor Hellebuyck is still elite. But he needs help from the defense. Less surprising was Alain Vigneault going bye bye in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a good fit. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in Montreal. The Blackhawks play harder now, but still leave Marc-Andre Fleury out to dry too much.

That’s going to do it for now. To everyone out there. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! 🎅

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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