What COVID protocols the Capitals broke, and why the NHL had to step in

Chris Johnston joins Hockey Central to discuss the situation on the Capitals and Hurricanes as they deal with COVID-19 protocols.

It’s at least a week without four critical players for the Washington Capitals — including captain Alexander Ovechkin — after contact tracing following a positive COVID test revealed the group was together in a hotel room, in violation of league protocols.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov were the other players added to the league’s COVID-Related Absences List on Wednesday evening. The Capitals’ next game is Friday against Buffalo, and, as of Thursday afternoon, there were no plans to postpone.

“We totally understand why the rules are in place and there’s no arguing with that,” head coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “We want to be compliant. We made a mistake and we need to do a better job.”

Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, was not as understanding, blasting the decision in an Instagram post, which revealed both Orlov and Ovechkin have antibodies. She made sure to post in both Russian and English so no one misunderstood her message.

The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell reported Samsonov tested positive for the virus. While the NHL and NHLPA list who is ineligible to play once the season began, there is an agreement not to explicitly reveal who has tested positive and who is out because of tracing. (Anyone in isolation for contact-tracing issues can be out seven, 10 or 14 days. That’s still being determined in this case.)

According to NHL protocols, “Each member of the Club’s Travelling Party will be required to stay in a single occupancy room, and no individual shall permit guests or other personnel in their room (with the exception of housekeeping or engineering staff, as needed, which services shall be provided while individuals are not present in the room).”

Those same protocols allow for “best efforts to arrange for a dedicated common area or lounge in the hotel for the exclusive use by players…of sufficient size and equipped with seating so as to permit for adherence to physical distancing and other hygiene measures.”

If the Washington players gathered there instead of their individual hotel rooms, the Capitals would have avoided a penalty.

The point about players being together on the bench or in other common areas was widely shared on social media. However, with two teams (Carolina and Dallas) already shut down due to spread, the league believes it must enforce its rules to the best of its ability. In addition, if the NHL is going to get San Jose back home and continue to travel in places like Canada where exceptions are being made to local lockdowns and/or quarantine rules, it must show a willingness to crack down on known violations.

It’s a stiff penalty, no question about it, a reminder to everyone: don’t get complacent.

And, it puts Washington at a competitive disadvantage. Their NBA brethren, the Wizards, haven’t played since Jan. 11, with six consecutive games postponed since an outbreak. The NBA has a rule that there must be eight players in uniform for a game to go ahead. The NHL doesn’t have anything that specific, with situations determined on a case-by-case basis.

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