On Thursday, the National Hockey League announced four COVID-19 protocol related changes that will be mandated across all 31 arenas/venues, effective immediately. These modifications to the original framework come following a slew of positive cases results across the league.
- The removal of glass behind players’ benches to allow further air flow from the tight quarters that players/coaches/medical staff reside for most of the game.
- Air cleaners are to be added behind players’ benches to help improve the air quality within arenas
- Teams are to ensure players are not getting dressed any closer than six feet apart, and spread out throughout the dressing room. If there is not enough dressing room space, clubs have been told to create space.
- The arrival time of players/coaches to the area can now be no more than 1 hour and 45 minutes prior to puck drop, unless being treated for an injury within the facility.
Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp is not pleased with the announced change to start times.
“I am really upset with this, we will be fighting this for sure,” he said Thursday morning. “If we were just worried about the spread we wouldn’t be playing at all.”
“We’ve got guys that show up here before 4 o’clock for a 7 o’clock game,” he added. “It’s getting your mind right, it’s getting your body right, to put out the best possible product for the fans, and trying to lower injury as much as possible. I mean, this is pretty much the only place we’re allowed to come.”
Copp is a proponent for early arrival for the sake of game preparation, not to mention hockey rinks are one of the only places that players can actually go to during this 2020-21 season. And he’s not the only one.
“It’s pretty insane,” teammate Mark Scheifele said. “You can’t expect guys to just show up and put on their gear and play. To just spring that on us is pretty crazy. That change in time really does affect me and will affect pretty much every guy in this league. It’s really tough to see them spring that on us so quick.”
Think what you wish about the league’s protocol and its effectiveness, but the numbers do not look good at this point.
So far, 22 games have been postponed during the 2020-21 season, including two that were announced prior to the start of the season. The Dallas Stars, Carolina Hurricanes, Vegas Golden Knights, New York Islanders and most recently the Minnesota Wild have been affected. Over 90 players have spent time on the COVID list at some point this season.
“With about 20 percent of our season played, we are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our Protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisors,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a league-issued release. “It is important to note that, while we have seen almost 100 players enter our COVID Protocols, fewer than half have done so because of confirmed positive tests – and, among that group, many have not been symptomatic. Our priority has been and will continue to be to act conservatively with an abundance of caution, understanding that there are many things about the transmission of COVID-19 that are still being discovered. As a result, we won’t hesitate to take additional measures as indicated by what we are learning and as directed by our medical advisers.”
Last week, the Vegas Golden Knights saw a game played without the team’s coaching staff as a member of that staff and one player tested positive or the virus. Later, it was determined that more players and coaches had acquired the virus, and in an appropriate measure, games were postponed and facilities were shut down.
On Monday, the New Jersey Devils saw 17 players placed on the league’s COVID reserve list, to which the league stepped in and cancelled all Devils games through February 6. Players from New Jersey on the COVID list include: Mackenzie Blackwood, Connor Carrick, Aaron Dell, Andreas Johnsson, Janne Kuokkanen, Michael McLeod, Kyle Palmieri, Sami Vatanen, Pavel Zacha, Jesper Bratt, Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Damon Smih, Matt Tennyson, Nikita Gusev, Nate Bastian, Yegor Sharangovich and Travis Zajac.
Wednesday brought about the news that the Minnesota Wild were ceasing operation through February 9, as five players were added to the COVID protocol list. On Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres announced that head coach and Steinbach product Ralph Krueger has tested positive for the virus. The Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames are set to resume game action Thursday night from Bell MTS Place at 7:00 PM central time.