- The NHL has modified its COVID-19 protocol for fully vaccinated players and teams.
- This includes relaxed mask wearing requirements along with modifications to policies on social gathering and testing.
- A team is considered fully vaccinated when 85 percent of the individuals in its traveling party are fully vaccinated.
Late last month, Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner criticized the NHL and NHL Players Association for not following through on promises relative to COVID-19 vaccination. Lehner had suggested that players were told that vaccinations would result in looser COVID-19 protocol for players and teams but at the time none had been forthcoming.
That has apparently changed according to a new memo sent by the NHL to teams late this afternoon. The policy that the league is announcing will go into effect for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for fully vaccinated individuals and teams. A player is considered ‘fully vaccinated’ two weeks after the final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. A team is considered ‘fully vaccinated’ when 85% of the traveling party has been fully vaccinated. A ‘traveling party’ includes players, coaches and team staff.
Any individual that chooses not to be vaccinated must adhere to the previous, more stringent COVID protocols. The protocol changes will also apply to referees and linesmen once all members of an officiating team are vaccinated. The NHL and NHL Players Association have agreed that the modifications can be rolled back for various reasons such as a team COVID-19 outbreak.
One upside is that players will no longer have to be as isolated off the rink. Lehner’s primary gripe was the difficulty of isolation during the NHL season. Previously, players were COVID tested every day–even when there’s no game or practice scheduled–and seldom get to leave their hotels, homes or rinks. Every other North American professional sport had implemented changes for vaccinated players and teams long before the NHL. The NHL’s position was that they didn’t want to ‘upset the competitive balance’ by giving fully vaccinated teams preferential treatment which essentially validated Lehner’s assertion.
Under the new protocol, fully vaccinated players will no longer be tested on off days. They will also be able to have small gatherings, visit the hotel room of other fully vaccinated players and even golf as a group. Assuming that all individuals have been vaccinated, masks will no longer be required. They can also dine at outdoor restaurants and eat indoors as long as they are separated from other guests.
Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour says that the reduced isolation should help players:
“Just to get back to some sort of normalcy. The playoffs are a grind just like this season has been, so any type of getting your mind away from it by being around the guys will help. We’ll see how that goes.”
“I can’t put it into percentages or anything but it’s been a grind for a lot of the players in the protocols and those things. I think that will be an ease for players, like, ‘Hey, this has been worth it.’ We’ve been grinding, grinding and now we’re seeing things change a bit. I think it’ll give a boost of energy to all involved.”
Fully vaccinated teams have their own relaxed protocols. They will no longer have to wear masks in non-public areas at practice and game facilities. Team meetings and social gatherings will no longer require masks are social distancing. Fully vaccinated teams will be able to eat on flights and buses and players will be able to commute to the rink together.