The NHL will stop testing asymptomatic players, coaches and staff who are fully vaccinated following the All-Star break in early February, saying coronavirus cases continue to decline across the league.
The league and Players’ Association announced the protocol changes Tuesday. The current policy will remain in place until the All-Star break begins Feb. 3.
Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour, who is expected to be behind the bench for the Metropolitan Division at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, called the change “common sense.”
“The players have done all they can, done all their vaccinations — all that stuff that they can do,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t know why they would be testing them, to be honest with you, if they’re asymptomatic, so I agree with this decision. I think it’s a good one.”
There will still be testing of asymptomatic individuals when it is needed for crossing the U.S.-Canada border. Testing will not be required at All-Star Weekend, with one negative result needed to return to team facilities after the break.
The 90-day testing “holiday” for players, coaches and staff who recover from COVID-19 will remain in place. New York Islanders forward Matt Martin pointed out that with the playoffs a little over three months away, not testing asymptomatic players is a smart move that could keep rosters from being decimated at that time.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can continue to move forward and get back to a normal way of life.”
The NHL and NHLPA also agreed to keep the five-day isolation period that went into effect Dec. 29, a reduction from 10 after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control updated its virus guidance. The league and union will review protocols, including enhanced rules that are currently in place, on Jan. 31 as long as cases keep declining.
A total of 160 players went into COVID protocol from Dec. 29-Jan. 11 after 208 in the two weeks prior to the chance. All players on active rosters are vaccinated except for Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi.
So far this season, 104 games have been postponed, including several because of attendance restrictions in Canada. The league is expected to announce a wave of rescheduled games Wednesday, including many getting moved into the two weeks that had previously been set aside for the Olympics, which will go ahead without NHL players because of the schedule disruptions.
Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat and Montreal Canadiens forwards Cole Caufield and Joel Armia went into protocol Tuesday. The Canucks are wrapping up a five-game U.S. road trip, and there is some concern about Horvat, goaltender Jaroslav Halak and forward Conor Garland not being able to cross the border for several more days.
“I’m not the border agent, so I have no idea what the process is,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said Sunday. “It just seems like it’s one a day with our group. It’s unfortunate.”
—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press