The Carolina Hurricanes' match against the Canada-based Ottawa Senators is off due to concerns over travel between the two North American countries ©Getty Images

The National Hockey League (NHL) has postponed 12 games involving travel across the United States-Canada border because of COVID-19 concerns, and its players' participation at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics appears increasingly unlikely.

The NHL is widely considered the best professional ice hockey league across the world, and a deal had been struck for players to appear at Beijing 2022- having missed out on Pyeongchang 2018.

However, it included a clause providing "the NHL and NHLPA with flexibility to monitor the COVID-19 situation and, ultimately to not send NHL players if the COVID conditions require such". 

The pandemic has been causing disruption to the NHL in recent weeks, with 27 matches called off going into the weekend due to the pandemic.

Teams including the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche have suffered COVID-19 outbreaks, and are among those not scheduled to play again until December 27 as a result.

At least a further 12 games have been impacted by this week's travel-related postponements - two today and tomorrow, three on Wednesday (December 22) and five on Thursday (December 23).

The Eastern Conference-leading Carolina Hurricanes' match at the Ottawa Senators is among those which is off.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) said they had both held meetings with medical experts over a rise in cases across the league, and that a decision to shut down teams would be made "on a case-by-case basis" as "there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness".

They added that the results of enhanced countermeasures aimed at combating the spread of the Omicron variant, including a resumption in daily testing, would be monitored.

It has been claimed that "virtually all" NHL participants have been vaccinated, a move which has been highly encouraged but not mandated.

NHL players missed out at Pyeongchang 2018, and their Olympic involvement is once again believed to be in some doubt for next year's Games in Beijing ©Getty Images
NHL players missed out at Pyeongchang 2018, and their Olympic involvement is once again believed to be in some doubt for next year's Games in Beijing ©Getty Images

On the subject of travel between Canada and the US, both organisations said the postponements had been made "due to the concern about cross-border travel and, given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions".

Both Canada and the US have experienced a rise in infections this month.

On the subject of participation at Beijing 2022, the NHL and NHLPA said they are both "actively discussing the matter", and expect a decision "in the coming days".

The NHL's US-based broadcast partner ESPN has reported that it is "highly unlikely" players will compete at Winter Olympics following the impact of COVID-19 on the league's schedule.

insidethegames has approached the IIHF for a comment.

An agreement was reached between the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), the NHL and NHLPA in September.

The NHL is due to pause for three weeks in February for Beijing 2022.

It has a deadline of January 10 to opt out of the Olympic deal without financial penalty, ESPN reports.

IIHF President Luc Tardif told Russian state news agency TASS last week he was "optimistic" of NHL participation.

NHL players took part in five consecutive Olympics from Nagano 1998, but missed out at Pyeongchang 2018.

The men's ice hockey tournament at Beijing 2022 is scheduled to run from February 9 to 20.

Olympic Athletes from Russia won the gold medal in Pyeongchang.