NHL relaxing COVID-19 protocols during playoffs for fully vaccinated teams

Pittsburgh Penguins centre Sidney Crosby (87) sees over top of the Stanley Cup logo as he plays against the Philadelphia Flyers during second period exhibition NHL hockey action ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The NHL is relaxing COVID-19 protocols during the Stanley Cup Playoffs for players and teams that have been fully vaccinated, according to a memo circulated on Saturday morning.

The changes will allow players to gather socially outside of team facilities, eat and drink outdoors at restaurants and spend time in each other’s hotel rooms after not being permitted to do so during the regular season.

Fully vaccinated players will also be exempted from quarantine after exposure to an infected individual or when travelling commercially, and will no longer be required to report to the team facility on off days to receive a PCR test. They can also resume commuting unmasked with a teammate and won’t be subject to time limitations for pre-game arena arrival.

The amended protocols, reached in consultation with the NHL Players’ Association, are similar to those governing NBA and MLB players. They should vastly improve the quality of life for those eligible. Last month Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner delivered an impassioned plea about the need for the NHL to relax the rules for those who had been vaccinated.

“This is human lives and people are struggling with this stuff a lot in society, and we are humans as everyone else,” said Lehner.

In order to be considered fully vaccinated a player must be two weeks beyond receiving his final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. Teams with a travelling party that’s at least 85 per cent fully vaccinated will be granted even looser protocols, including more lenient masking and social distancing rules and improved travel conditions.

The changes will only affect the U.S.-based teams initially because they had better access to vaccinations. Some eligible players on Canadian teams have started to receive vaccine doses, according to sources, but none of the teams are in a position to qualify as being fully vaccinated.

The clubs with that designation are free to hold meetings and social gatherings where fully vaccinated players aren’t required to wear face coverings. They can also resume serving food on team flights and offer buffet-style meals after games and practices where fully vaccinated players aren’t required to wear a mask or socially distance.

They can even hold team meals indoors at restaurants for fully vaccinated players as long as they’re seated in a separate section away from other patrons and the servers are masked.

Fully vaccinated players will be permitted to use saunas and steam rooms at team facilities, valet park their cars and play golf as a group -- provided they don’t enter the clubhouse or other indoor facilities.

The modified COVID-19 protocols are subject to being withdrawn altogether for various reasons, including the case of a team outbreak.

They can also be amended as part of a potential deal reached with the Canadian government that would allow for cross-border travel during the third and fourth round of the playoffs.

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