CHICAGO — Jacob Trouba was the first NHL player who allowed himself to be publicly photographed getting jabbed with a dose of coronavirus vaccine, and his wife did rotations in the emergency room in Florida with the pandemic raging.
Perhaps because of that, the New York Rangers defenceman is not surprised that almost the entire league is expected to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the time the season begins on Oct. 12. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly estimates that 98% of players will be vaccinated, leaving between 10 and 15 players without among roughly 700 on 32 teams across North America.
"People can make their own decisions, but the right one would be to get vaccinated," Trouba said Thursday at the annual NHL/NHLPA player media tour. "I think it’s great that it’s come this way, and hopefully we get 15 more guys vaccinated."
The league and NHL Players’ Association did not impose a vaccine mandate on players, but restrictions — including the potential of not being able to cross the border from the U.S. into Canada without a lengthy quarantine — contributed to the number.
"We weren’t really trying to convince each other one way or the other," Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty said. "But then I think when the NHL released that statement that you lose pay and stuff like that, that kind of changed some guys’ minds."
Teams will be able to suspend unvaccinated players without pay if they cannot participate in hockey activities as part of the protocols, which could include games in Canada.
"If you’re unvaccinated, you’re on a U.S. team, you’re travelling to Canada to play games in Canada, there is no exception at this point for that player to be exempted from a 14-day quarantine," Daly told The Associated Press. "Most of our U.S. clubs aren’t doing 14-day road trips into Canada (so) that player typically would be left home because he can’t participate if he goes to Canada. So, those are the types of disruptions that we’ll see with unvaccinated players."
Fully vaccinated players will have any COVID-19 positives treated as hockey injuries and still be paid. Unvaccinated players also will have their movements restricted when on the road. And there will still be regular coronavirus testing for vaccinated players.
"I think that’s been an incentive and a motivator for most players to become fully vaccinated, even if they had concerns about it," Daly said. "But it was intended to be that."
Three teams — Calgary, Toronto and Carolina — have confirmed all their players are vaccinated, and Philadelphia expects to be at 100% soon.
"That’s the path that most people have chosen now within the league, which is good," Trouba said. "And, personally, I’m fine with the restrictions that they have put in place."
Coaches and staff must be vaccinated as a condition of employment. Columbus recently replaced assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre because he declined to be vaccinated.