NHL implementing enhanced COVID-19 protocols amid rise in cases

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The NHL is implementing enhanced COVID-19 protocols for all 32 teams, with the changes lasting through at least Jan. 7. After the new year, the league and NHLPA will revisit the issue and a decision will be made to either roll back the changes or extend them.

The protocols, which teams experienced last season, include daily testing (no longer every third day); masks worn inside team facilities; limited interactions away from home, hotels, and rinks; and meetings to be held virtually.

Full measures for all teams to follow can be found here.

It’s been a week where the number of players, coaches and staff in COVID-19 protocol has risen every day. Game postponements, games in front of empty crowds, and affected rosters have been a daily occurrence. Due to rising COVID-19 numbers the NHL postponed Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Florida Panthers games through next week’s holiday break.

[MORE: Quarantine concerns loom over NHL participation in Olympics]

On Friday, the NHL announced that Saturday’s Bruins-Canadiens game in Montreal was postponed. At least six Bruins players are on the NHL COVID protocol list.

Jeremy Swayman, Anton Blidh and Trent Frederic entered Thursday, after Patrice Bergeron (Wednesday), along with Craig Smith and Brad Marchand (both on Tuesday). A staff member is also in protocol.

Twenty-nine games have been postponed so far due to COVID-19 outbreaks and over 140 players have entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol this season. The Omicron variant has been found in some positive test results. All but one current player is vaccinated and many have already received booster shots. Vaccination is not mandated, but encouraged.

Players speaking out

There are no indications that the league is planning to pause the season despite more and more players expressing their concerns.

“When you get to 60 to 80 players who have COVID, that’s a big percentage of our league,” said Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin. “I don’t think it’s good for hockey either when a team is missing five or six players — it takes away from the NHL. It will be up to the league to make a decision on whether we stop playing for a bit, but I would tell you it’s really not ideal.”

Nick Cousins is one of 12 Predators players and staff currently in COVID-19 protocol.

As the number of cases continues to rise, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be more postponements. The league does have a three-day break next weekend, but will empty arenas like what we saw in Montreal, or ones with reduced capacity, like what Ontario will experience beginning Saturday, come next to try and help slow the spread?

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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.

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