NHL’s new COVID-19 protocols include mechanism for suspending unvaccinated players


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and NHL Player's Association executive director Donald Fehr. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Quick Thursday evening blog: The NHL and NHLPA have finalized COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-22 season.

The biggest news is a mechanism for teams to suspend unvaccinated players who are “unable to participate in club activities.” This includes situations where a player cannot travel because of local, provincial/state and/or federal regulations “upon return.” Such individuals would “forfeit the equivalent of one day’s pay for each day” they are precluded from participating.

It’s a major development considering the Canada/U.S. border and different rules/approaches across the NHL’s North American landscape. General managers were warned about this possibility at their virtual meeting in July and began informing players about the possibility.

There are exceptions — unvaccinated status based upon medical reasons; a conflict with “sincerely held religious beliefs;” establishment “on the basis of a balance of the probabilities,” COVID-19 “arised out of the course of employment as a hockey player;” or quarantine because of being a high-risk close contact.

If a fully vaccinated player is confirmed with a positive COVID test, his condition “shall be treated as a hockey-related injury for all purposes” under the CBA.

Unvaccinated players who are not exempted for the above reasons will not be paid if his team establishes, “on the basis of a balance of the probabilities, that the player failed to comply with the terms of this protocol in a manner that was reasonably related to his contraction of COVID-19 and/or any resulting or related illness.”

Other notable points of emphasis:

• Any player who wishes to opt-out of the 2021-22 season because they are unvaccinated or fully vaccinated “but can establish that an immediate family member with whom he shares a household is at substantially heightened risk of severe illness by contracting COVID-19” can opt-out by Oct. 1. The team in question will then have 30 days to decide if the player’s contract will be “tolled” (basically rolling it over to 2022-23) or if this season would be removed from the agreement. Anyone opting out would not be able to play in another league or the Olympics.

• Any person whose job, role, position or access entails or entitles them to have personal interactions (within 12 feet) of club hockey operations personnel (including players) must be fully vaccinated.

• Fully vaccinated players shall be subject to PCR testing at least every 72 hours. That guideline could change depending on how things progress. Unvaccinated players will be tested daily.

• There are stiff rules for unvaccinated players. On the road, they cannot enter “internal venues” other than the team hotel, practice facility, or game arena. They are not allowed to use the hotel gym, pool, sauna, steam room or other shared facilities. They are not allowed to have teammates, team staff or visitors inside their hotel room, with the exception of fully-vaccinated family. They are not allowed to leave the hotel to eat (or purchase food) or use any restaurants/bars (in or out of the hotel) that are open to the public. They can’t pick up food except where the restaurant provides curbside pickup (or similar service) that does not require entrance to the main restaurant.


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