The Blue Jackets’ 67-player training camp roster is 100% vaccinated, according to president of hockey operations John Davidson. Zac Rinaldo, who was expected to be on the ice, will not be attending.
Rinaldo, who signed a one-year, two-way deal in August, will not be at NHL camp after deciding against receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. He will begin the year with Cleveland of the American Hockey League. This comes a week after Sylvain Lefebvre, who the Blue Jackets hired as an assistant in June, was fired after he chose not to be vaccinated.
According to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-22 season, all team personnel working in close quarters with players must be vaccinated. Players are not mandated to be, but were strongly encouraged. Unvaccinated players will face stiffer penalties, like suspension and loss of pay, should they test positive and miss games.
[Related: NHL COVID-19 protocols increase restrictions for unvaccinated players]
“When you read the amount of players and the percentage of players that have been vaccinated, it’s a big, big number,” Davidson said. “There’s very few that aren’t, and that’s their own personal choice. I’m not going to sit here and tell them what to do, even though I’d like to see the whole world vaccinated. My daughter’s a doctor, and she believes in this and I believe in her because she’s a heckuva lot smarter than I am. I’d like to see the whole world get vaccinated, including all the athletes.
“When we think about vaccination and we think about our team, we think about our fans, we think about our players and their families, we have a responsibility as the leaders of the organization. We want our people vaccinated, we want to wear masks as much as possible. It’s just the way it is.”
Last week, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that the league expects 98% of players to be fully vaccinated by the start of the season.
The Hamilton Spectator reported last week that Rinaldo attended an “anti-vaccine passport” rally and gave a brief speech telling the crowd, “I’m not anti-vax. I’m not anti-mask. I’m pro-choice.”
Kekalainen said the “ball is in his court right now” when asked if anything might change between the two sides in the next little while.
“As JD mentioned, we do everything as a team and that’s a requirement of being a Blue Jacket,” Kekalainen said. “We’re going with the group that we have here, which is 100% vaccinated and we’ll see how it develops.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.