Report: NHL COVID-19 Protocols Include Possible Suspension, Loss of Pay for Unvaccinated Players

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Report: NHL COVID-19 Protocols Include Possible Suspension, Loss of Pay for Unvaccinated Players

Chicago Blackhawks

On the heels of the United Center announcing that all fans in attendance for Bulls and Blackhawks games will be required to show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative test for entry to events, the NHL is laying out their COVID-19 protocols for the 32 teams in the league for the 2021-22 season.

In a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the NHL has put into place their COVID-19 protocols for this season, some of which include possible suspensions and losses of pay for unvaccinated players who are unavailable due to contracting COVID-19.

The biggest takeaway from the league’s protocols is a mechanism for teams to suspend unvaccinated players who are unable to participate in club activities. Those situations would include if a player cannot travel because of local, provincial, state, and/or federal regulations “upon return.” If that were the case, those players would not be paid the equivalent of one day’s pay for each day they are held out from participating. According to Friedman, NHL General Managers were informed of this possibility in July and began to inform players then.

There are exceptions in place to circumvent the COVID protocols, including:
•   Unvaccinated status based upon medical reasons.
•   A conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs.
•   Establishment on the basis of a balance of the probabilities that COVID-19 arose out of the course of employment as a hockey player.
•   Quarantine because of being a high-risk close contact.

If an unvaccinated player tests positive and is held out from team activities and cannot establish one of the above exemptions, that player would then face the loss of their pay. If a fully vaccinated player ends up testing positive, that is to be conducted like a “hockey-related injury” for all purposes.

In a nutshell, it is going to suck to be an unvaccinated NHL player this season. Here are some restrictions that unvaccinated players will have to adhere to:
•   On the road, they cannot enter internal venues other than the team hotel, practice facility, or game arena.
•   Not allowed to use the hotel gym, pool, sauna, steam room or other shared facilities.
•   Not allowed to have teammates, team staff or visitors inside their hotel room, with the exception of fully-vaccinated family.
•   Not allowed to leave the hotel to eat (or purchase food) or use any restaurants/bars (in or out of the hotel) that are open to the public.
•   Cannot pick up food except where the restaurant provides curbside pickup (or similar service) that does not require entrance to the main restaurant.

Sounds awful, if you ask me.

Players who want to opt-out of the 2021-22 season, whether they are unvaccinated or are vaccinated but a member of their immediate household is at severe risk of illness, have until October 1 to make that decision. If a player decides to opt-out, the team would then have 30 days to decide whether their contract will “roll” into next season or if the 2021-22 season would be removed from the contract agreement. If a player opts-out, they are not allowed to play in any other league or the Olympics, according to Friedman’s report.

Good news for those vaccinated in the NHL media, according to The Athletic’s Michael Russo, fully vaccinated media members will have access to team locker rooms while masked.

The NHL and NHLPA aren’t requiring players to be vaccinated, but are instead using financial penalties to induce players to get the vaccine. This is a good measure for the NHL to take, not only to ensure the league’s ability to operate as smoothly as possible for the 2021-22 season as North America continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, but to ensure the health of their players, coaches, and of team and league staff members.

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Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.