Four Washington Capitals players, including captain Alex Ovechkin, were placed on the NHL’s covid-19 protocol-related absences list Wednesday night after they gathered in a hotel room during a recent trip in violation of league protocols. Players are prohibited from practicing or playing while on the list, and they can be taken off the list at any time.
In addition to Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov were placed on the protocols list and the team was fined $100,000 for the violations, which the league said “involved social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings.”
There is no minimum required stay on the list, and it remains unclear whether the players will be available for Friday’s home opener vs. the Buffalo Sabres.
In a statement Wednesday night, the Capitals said they were “disappointed” by the players’ decision to interact in their hotel room and outside team-approved areas.
New NHL protocols this season make clear that each member of the club’s traveling party is “required to stay in a single occupancy room, and no individual shall permit guests or other personnel in their room.”
Restrictions on the road are tighter in general because of the protocols. Players cannot “patronize or enter internal venues other than the designated hotel, the practice facility or the game arena,” the protocols state, and each NHL city has a league-designated hotel for visiting clubs.
“We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the covid-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward,” the statement read.
Ovechkin also released a statement: “I regret my choice to spend time together with my teammates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas. I will learn from this experience.”
Being placed on the league’s covid-related absences list does not necessarily mean players tested positive, but being placed on it indicates either the player or someone in his orbit tested positive.
Per the NHL, a player listed as “unavailable” because of covid protocols can include: an initial positive test, which remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed; mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals; required quarantine as a high-risk close contact; isolation based on a confirmed positive test result; or quarantine for travel or other reasons.
Washington had a day off Wednesday after it completed a four-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. As of Wednesday night, the Capitals are still scheduled to practice Thursday and play their home opener Friday.
Coach Peter Laviolette was asked last week about playing through a season riddled with coronavirus concerns.
“I’m not even sure that I can answer that,” Laviolette said. “I guess we’re prepared for anything. Anything could happen. The most important thing is that we do our best to try and maintain a standard in the organization. We not just talked about it once; we talk about it every couple days. Just reminders on what could happen and making sure that we’re trying to hold a standard. You see the outbreaks across everywhere.”
The Capitals are the first team fined by the league because of covid-19 violations. Teams were made aware before the season that the failure to adhere to the league’s covid-19 protocols would bring penalties.
The league has been managing a handful of coronavirus issues through the first couple of weeks of an abbreviated 56-game regular season.
Notably, the day before the NHL season started Jan. 13, the NHL announced 27 players tested positive during training camp. Of those, 17 players were members of the Dallas Stars. Their first four games of the season were postponed.
On Wednesday, the NHL announced that the Carolina Hurricanes would have games postponed through at least Jan. 23 after five players were placed on the covid-related absences list.
Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged the risks of the pandemic in a conference call with reporters before the season.
“In order for us to get through the season, we understand that there is an element of risk that covid-19 may impact one or more games,” Bettman said. “We also understand, as we have throughout, that in order to accomplish our goal, we’re going to need to be flexible and agile in how we deal with whatever we’re confronted with, and we are again prepared to do that.”