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Ondrej Kase, Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at Rogers Place, on Dec. 14, 2021, in Edmonton.Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

The penultimate weekend of 2021 was one to remember for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but unfortunately for the team and its fans, it unfolded without a single puck being shot in anger.

Instead, it turned into a COVID nightmare before Christmas, with seven of the team’s players and two coaches added to the coronavirus protocol list, while both of Leafs’ games, in Vancouver on Saturday and in Seattle on Sunday, were postponed.

The Maple Leafs will now have to wait until after Boxing Day to play, with the NHL deciding on Sunday to postpone all games involving Canada-U.S. cross-border travel from Dec. 20 through Dec. 23, ruling out Toronto’s home game Thursday against the St. Louis Blues among many others. The Leafs are scheduled to play on Dec. 27 in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.

Also, with the league’s schedule this week in tatters, a decision will be made within a few days about the players’ participation in the Beijing Games.

While in Vancouver waiting to play the Canucks on Friday, Leafs’ captain John Tavares and fellow forwards Alex Kerfoot, Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza all tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The next day, goaltender Jack Campbell and head coach Sheldon Keefe were added to that list, along with defencemen T.J. Brodie and Travis Dermott and assistant coach Spencer Carbery.

Speaking before the revelation of the team’s second wave of positive test results, Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said the first four players were affected by the virus to varying degrees.

“Two of the four players are entirely asymptomatic,” he said on a Zoom call Saturday. “One of the four had mild symptoms that have dissipated, and one has some fever and chills and body aches.”

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In addition to the positive tests among the Leafs, Dubas said the team’s top farm team, the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, had up to 10 positive cases with all players and staff currently isolating as per Toronto Public Health guidelines.

Though the GM admitted he was disappointed about the outbreak – the team diligently followed the appropriate protocols since the beginning of the virus in March, 2020 – he said it was always likely given the nature of playing professional sports across North America.

“Fortunately, these have been our first positives that we’ve dealt with, even going back to the 2020 summer bubble, when it was in Toronto for us,” he said.

“I think as it’s gone on and especially as different variants have come up and you see how quickly this specific one spreads, I think you’re naive if you think it’s going to avoid a team of 20 to 25 players who are travelling at any one time plus all the staff.”

Case in point was Sunday evening, when the Detroit Red Wings were the latest team to have their games postponed through to the end of the NHL’s Christmas break on Dec. 26. They join the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers in that regard. The Red Wings had to place six members of their team, including head coach Jeff Blashill and starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, on the COVID protocol list before Saturday’s 5-2 win over New Jersey.

In Washington, forward T.J. Oshie was added to the Capitals COVID protocol list on Sunday, just hours before the team took on the Los Angeles Kings, who had to add Phillip Danault to their own list the same day. Oshie joined fellow forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom as the Caps had to try to replace some of their top offensive talent.

“Obviously, it’s not what you want,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said. “You’re [missing] Backstrom and Kuznetsov and Oshie and lots of guys on your power play and top-six guys. But it is what it is. We’ve got to move forward here and we’ll see what we have available. I’m not sure.”

In Edmonton, Jesse Puljujarvi was added to the Oilers’ growing COVID protocol list before the team’s 5-3 win over the Seattle Kraken on Saturday, joining forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan McLeod, defenceman Duncan Keith and head coach Dave Tippett.

But the Oilers will get some respite, with their next three games postponed after the NHL’s decision to postpone all games between Canadian and U.S.-based teams through to Dec. 23. The NHL’s statement attributed the decision “to the concern about cross-border travel.”

As a result, the Oilers’ home game against Anaheim as well as road fixtures against the Kings and San Jose Sharks will be moved. The Montreal Canadiens’ three games in that span will also be postponed, along with two games for both Vancouver and Ottawa, Winnipeg’s game in Dallas on Wednesday, and the Leafs’ home game against St. Louis.

The league’s statement, issued jointly alongside the NHL Players’ Association, also said the NHL and NHLPA were discussing the league’s participation at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, particularly in response to the minimum of 39 games that will be postponed through to Dec. 23. The NHL had 55 postponements last season.

The statement said that both sides “expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days.”

However, the statement also poured cold water on the possibility of pausing the season.

“We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular-season schedule,” the statement read. “Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness.

“Therefore, the NHLPA’s and NHL’s medical experts have determined that, with virtually all players and club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis.”

The Maple Leafs GM is hoping the season carries on, even with the mounting number of games – which now includes an arduous Western road swing through Calgary, Vancouver and Seattle – that his team will have to make up,

“I’m hopeful that [the NHL hitting the pause button] is not necessary,” Dubas said. “But I think as we’ve all learned as we’ve gone through this the last almost two years, every day is a new day and it’s impossible to say what tomorrow will bring in terms of the evolution of this virus.”

The Leafs (20-8-2) haven’t played since Tuesday when they beat the Oilers 5-1 in Edmonton.

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