Twenty-six games have been postponed, with the potential for more. On Friday, 41 players from 10 teams were on the NHL’s covid-19 related absences list, which restricts play and practice time.
“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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Thursday.
Washington had four players hit the list last month, but the Capitals are hardly alone in feeling the impact of the virus. Among the hardest-hit teams are the New Jersey Devils, who have a staggering 17 players on the list — by far the most in the league. New Jersey’s games are postponed through at least Saturday. Five Sabres players are on the list, and their games are off through Monday. Buffalo Coach Ralph Krueger, 61, tested positive for the virus.
The Minnesota Wild, which has seven players on the list, can’t play at least through Tuesday. The Colorado Avalanche, which has two players out, is shut down through Thursday. The Vegas Golden Knights, who were without three coaches and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and had last played Jan. 26, are slated to return to action Friday.
Carolina and Dallas dealt with coronavirus issues earlier in the season, which caused a handful of postponements; the Stars began their season a week later than scheduled.
With so many teams having to put their seasons on hold and, in turn, affecting their opponents’ schedules, the NHL adjusted its virus guidelines Thursday, adding more “preventive measures.”
“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,” Bettman said in the statement. “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.”
The NHL — which before the season released more than 200 pages of rules and guidance about mask-wearing and restrictions while teams are on the road — directed clubs to take out the glass behind the player benches in arenas, a change it said was made to improve air flow. It is also trying to cut down the amount of time players spend in arenas and to make sure they can maintain six feet of separation in the dressing room.
“As we continue to learn about the nature and transmission of COVID-19, we are trying to identify the relevant aspects of our game that are either unique or common among other sports and adjust our Protocols accordingly,” the league’s chief medical officer, Willem Meeuwisse, said in Thursday’s statement. “We will continue to analyze all of these factors and the related medical data will continue to drive all of our decisions.”
Four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov — were placed on the protocol list in January after the group gathered in a hotel room during a road trip, a violation of league rules. The team was also hit with a $100,000 fine.
Ovechkin and Orlov have returned, but Kuznetsov and Samsonov are still off the ice for Washington, which remains the only team fined this season.
“We’ll abide by the protocols that they set in place. I think our trainers are doing a terrific job to be their best, work their best to keep our team healthy,” Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “We understand why they are doing it. I understand it.”
The true test moving forward is whether the NHL can complete its 56-game season without a leaguewide interruption. The modification of guidelines indicates the NHL wants to take small steps to improve rather than jump to halting play entirely.
“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,” Bettman said in the statement.
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