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NHL introduces enhanced COVID-19 protocols: What do they mean for season, Olympics?



Similar to the NBA and NFL, the NHL is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak of its own as the omicron variant begins to take a larger hold.

As of Dec. 18, more than 60 players are in the league’s COVID protocols and five teams — the Bruins, Predators, Flames, Panthers and Avalanche — are on pause through the league’s upcoming holiday break, which will end Dec. 26.

MORE: Full list of games, events postponed amid latest COVID outbreak

According to ESPN, the league is only considering a full shutdown as “a last resort,” though “things are looking pretty grim,” reporter Emily Kaplan said on Twitter.

The league implemented the new protocols after what transpired during the past week.

Sporting News has everything you need to know about what’s going on in the NHL and how the league is handling this outbreak.

What is in the NHL’s new COVID-19 protocols?

In a memo sent to all 32 teams and signed by commissioner Gary Bettman, there are six areas of emphasis in the new protocols, with the bulk of them involving prevention and testing.

Notably, the protocols apply to both vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

As to prevention, these are some of the measures the league is recommending:

  • Wearing masks at all times inside Club facilities and during travel, including when on buses, planes, and at the hotel (unless exercising, participating in a game, or eating or drinking)
  • Virtual meetings, or only brief in-person meetings in large well-ventilated spaces
  • It is strongly recommended that you wear masks when in public indoor places in your community.
  • It is strongly recommended that you wear a N95, KN95 or a surgical mask, not a cloth mask.
  • Physical distancing for meals (at least one empty chair) in both at the Club’s home market and on the road

As for testing, the league has implemented or suggested the following:

  • Daily COVID-19 molecular testing (preferably, molecular point-of-care) for all members of the Club Traveling Party for the duration of the period during which these Enhanced Measures are in place
  • Additional pre-game testing may be implemented, on a case-by-case basis, when a COVID outbreak occurs within a team, after consultation with the NHL and NHLPA
  • Consistent with the 2021-22 COVID-19 Protocol, symptomatic individuals shall be monitored with daily molecular testing until all symptoms resolve (to the satisfaction of the Club Physician)
  • Notwithstanding the foregoing, there shall be no team testing of Players on their days off or of Players during the 90-day “testing holiday” following a confirmed positive diagnosis

The full list of new protocols can be found here. These new protocols are in place until at least Jan. 7, at which point the NHL and NHLPA medical experts will reexamine them.

Could the NHL season be paused?

Multiple media outlets are of the opinion that a leaguewide pause is unlikely even with the high number of postponements through the holiday break.

The Athletic’s Sean Gentille wrote that a full shutdown would be “a Hail Mary attempt.”

“I also don’t think the NHL wants to be ‘first’ here; if the NBA or NFL took leaguewide measures, that’d take hockey off the hook,” he wrote.

ESPN’s Emily Kaplan said the league is in “triage mode” and is “looking to avoid a full-on shutdown at all costs.”

The league did fully pause the latter part of last season, from March 12 until play resumed Aug. 1 with a new format.

Will the protocols end the NHL’s participation in the Olympics?

The NHL is planning on sending representatives to Beijing in February, but as commissioner Gary Bettman has said, that is contingent upon there not being a material disruption to the season. He has not specified what is meant by “material disruption.”

Kaplan reported the league has until Jan. 10 to pull out of the Olympics without financial penalty. With the new protocols running until Jan. 7, that doesn’t give the league much time to assess the situation and then act.

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“We are nearing that cliff, if we haven’t reached that cliff already,” Kaplan said.

In her estimation, it’s becoming more and more unlikely that NHL players will take the ice in Beijing given the trends.

According to The Boston Globe, the decision not to participate would ultimately be the players’. If they opt not to go, it’s likely that there will be a repeat of the 2018 Winter Olympics in terms of who plays for Team USA. That year, a collection of minor league players, players playing in Europe, U.S. collegians and free agents represented the country in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after the NHL prohibited its players from competing in the Olympics.



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