NHLPA awaits clarity on Olympic COVID-19 protocol as uncertainty grows

NHL Olympics
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Alex Pietrangelo says he’s uncertain about Olympic participation after the NHLPA confirmed that a positive COVID-19 test would require a quarantine period of between 3-5 weeks.

“I’ve got four kids that are under the age of 3½. For me to be potentially locked up there for five weeks plus the Olympics, that’s a long time being away from my family,” Pietrangelo told David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I’m not going to make a decision until we get all the answers, because those are kind of hard to come by right now. So, we’re all kind of sitting and waiting.”

Pietrangelo was one of the first three players named to Canada’s men’s Olympic roster, along with Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr told ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski that the union is still waiting on “concrete answers” from the Beijing Organizing Committee about COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re waiting on an awful lot of information to come from the IOC and the Chinese,” Fehr said. “We still don’t know what the COVID situation will be as we get closer.”

Pietrangelo’s teammate, goaltender Robin Lehner, has already withdrawn from consideration for Sweden after citing mental health reasons.

Risks with participation

The Toronto Star’s Chris Johnston reported that a positive test at the Olympics would need to be followed by two negative tests 24 hours apart otherwise a 3-5 week quarantine period is required.

“I actually find it difficult to believe that a player would want to go understanding he was risking being in China for an extra three weeks,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said during last week’s NHL Board of Governor’s meetings.

There is also a financial penalty at stake, too. Players who miss games and practices after the Olympics will not be paid for the time missed. While there is no COVID-19 insurance for players at the Olympics, the IIHF will have a $5 million fund available for any lost salary due to the virus.

The league has long-held a view that going to the Olympics is disruptive to the NHL regular season. But in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement a promise to the union that an attempt would be made to broker a deal with the IIHF and International Olympic Committee. An agreement was hammered out, but COVID-19 concerns and a “whole host of issues” have raised further questions about participating.

As part of the 2020 CBA, the NHL could decide to pull out of the Olympics if COVID-19 outbreaks force postponements that disrupt the regular-season schedule. Eight games have already been postponed, with six needing to be rescheduled.

The NHL can decline to participate by Jan. 10 without a financial penalty. If players do not go, there will still be a break, albeit a shorter one, following the All-Star Game in Las Vegas. The second half regular-season schedule would need to be tweaked in order to fill those extra weeks.

Up to the players now

Bettman said that unless the league and NHLPA decide together to not participate, the decision to go to Beijing and deal with the COVID-19 restrictions and quarantines will be up to the players.

“I don’t think this is going to be the ideal Olympic experience in terms of the lockdowns in the Olympic village and everything else that’s going on,” Bettman said. “But again, we made a promise to the players and I’m going, to the best of our ability, to adhere to it — understanding that there may be promises and consequences that nobody’s going to like, but we made a promise.”

For now, the players and league will sit and wait and see what develops.

“I would expect sooner rather than later we would have answers, because if we’re not going to go or we are going to go, us with families, we have some stuff to plan,” Pietrangelo said. “If we don’t go we’ll probably take a vacation with the kids. I’m just kind of sitting and waiting.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.