In mid-September, NHL executive Bill Daly estimated the number of unvaccinated players at 15 or less. With the preseason in motion, there’s been more COVID-related news around the NHL. Here are some of the most noteworthy COVID-related stories, covering Evander Kane (Sharks), Tyler Bertuzzi (Red Wings), Mackenzie Blackwood (Devils), Josh Archibald (Oilers), and Zach-Aston Reese (Penguins).
Possible COVID protocol violation among investigations regarding Sharks’ Kane
The Sharks began training camp without Evander Kane. It’s unclear if, or when, he might play for the Sharks again.
On Sept. 22, the NHL concluded its investigations into claims that Evander Kane gambled on Sharks games. The league announced that “there was no evidence to support the allegations.” In that same announcement, the league noted an additional investigation. In that same release, the NHL stated that it’s investigating sexual assault and domestic violence allegations.
Tuesday (Sept. 28) presented further investigations regarding Evander Kane. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Kane is also being investigated for violating NHL COVID protocols.
Additional details haven’t been revealed — including when the alleged COVID protocol violations may have occurred.
While the NHL’s gambling investigation is closed, the NHL indicated that other investigations remain ongoing. They didn’t give a timetable regarding when those might be complete. The Sharks begin their regular season on Oct. 16.
Red Wings’ Bertuzzi, Devils’ Blackwood among NHL’s unvaccinated players
NHL COVID protocols are worth noting in many of these cases. For one thing, an unvaccinated player who contracted COVID could be suspended. On the other hand, a vaccinated player who contracted COVID would be treated the same as a player who was injured.
And that's at a minimum. Remember, any NHL team can suspend an unvaccinated player without pay if he's not available to participate. So, a virus positive or close contact would cost him more money. Vaccinated players have those treated as hockey injuries and are paid.
— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) September 22, 2021
Crucially, Bill Daly noted to Josh Clipperton that the NHL won’t seek a National Interest exemption for unvaccinated players hoping to enter Canada. So, unvaccinated players either would need to change their minds before their teams travel to Canada, or miss whatever time.
- MacKenzie Blackwood confirmed that he’s the lone unvaccinated Devils player. Blackwood told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski that he needs more time to decide if he’ll get vaccinated.
“I have a couple of health concerns and health reasons why I’m working through it a little slower. I wanted to check off a couple of boxes, and not rush to do it."
— Mackenzie Blackwood, @NJDevils goalie. He declined to elaborate. Said he's “not currently” vaccinated.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) September 28, 2021
Wyshynski notes that the Devils’ first game in Canada is on Dec. 3 in Winnipeg against the Jets.
- While Blackwood indicated he might get vaccinated, it sounds like that isn’t happening with Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi. (Unless he changes his mind in a significant way?)
Bertuzzi is the only Red Wings player refusing to get vaccinated. Bertuzzi explained it as a “life choice” and a “personal decision” last Thursday. Teammates like Dylan Larkin voiced their support for Bertuzzi, while Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman said they couldn’t force him to get vaccinated.
“It’s his decision,” Yzerman said, via the Detroit Free Press. “I am not in a position to force anyone. We can’t force anyone to get vaccinated. I personally am vaccinated, my family is vaccinated. I’ll leave it at that.”
If nothing changes, Bertuzzi would miss the Red Wings’ eight games in Canada. The Associated Press’ Stephen Whyno estimates that if that happened, it could cost Bertuzzi at least $450K.
More NHL COVID news: Archibald, Aston-Reese
- In the cases of Bertuzzi and Blackwood, you have players who are established on the Red Wings and Devils, respectively. Each player is under contract for two more seasons. Josh Archibald’s situation with the Oilers, however, is more tenuous.
Critics are not holding back about Archibald’s current decision to remain unvaccinated.
Selfish and not so smart, Josh Archibald will either join the team or take his conspiracy theories to Bakersfield.
My take on Keith and Archibald – the two sides of the vaccine hesitant NHLer.https://t.co/TXlOA05OKE
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) September 23, 2021
As Mark Spector noted in that article, Duncan Keith expressed hesitance in getting vaccinated. The veteran defenseman eventually decided to go through with it, though.
- As a reminder, the Blue Jackets decided not to invite Zac Rinaldo to training camp because he opted against getting vaccinated. The Blue Jackets also dismissed a coach for that reason, as did the Sharks.
- Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese recently entered COVID protocol after testing positive. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike DeFabo notes that Aston-Reese has been vaccinated, and that only one Penguins player needs a second dose for the team to reach a 100-percent vaccination rate. Aston-Reese represents the Penguins’ first in-season positive COVID result since the start of the pandemic. (Sidney Crosby and others entered the NHL’s COVID protocol. In those cases, DeFabo notes that they were either false-positives or high-risk close contacts.)