The NHL and NHL Players’ Association created a 56-game schedule that kicked off play in mid-January of this year. The formatting of the games changed, including requiring teams only play within their respective divisions, allowing game rescheduling and disallowing fans in the arenas.
The NHL protocols require players to pass consistent medical screenings in order to participate in training, practice and games. Players are now considered unavailable if they receive a positive COVID-19 test result, an unconfirmed positive test result, if they have been in contact with a positive patient, are exhibiting symptoms or are quarantined for travel reasons in alignment with CDC guidelines.
The Dallas Stars had the start of their season interrupted when a number of players and staff members tested positive after training camp. After this, several more teams saw the need to reschedule games as more players were added to the COVID-19 protocol list. Notably, the New Jersey Devils saw a record 17 players added. The Minnesota Wild experienced a rough few weeks after being the sixth team to have games postponed. Not only did they have seven players on their COVID-19 list, but two more were gone with injuries, leaving an absence of key players.
The current COVID-19 protocol list is made available to the public and updated as necessary. Due to the rising concern over COVID-19 safety, the NHL recently implemented more safety measures teams must follow.
The clear shields behind each team’s bench will be removed. This choice was made to encourage more airflow in the arenas during games, where players and coaches are required to be within close proximity of one another. The removal of this shielding means that no person can occupy the seating area close to the bench.
There will be limited time at the host arena and more locker room space given to each team in an effort to maintain social distancing. Teams are encouraged to make any necessary preparations in advance to arrive at the playing location, and the away team should arrive no earlier than an hour and forty five minutes before the game. Other meetings or media should be conducted virtually whenever possible.
Air filtering and cleaning is also likely to be implemented by the league, which means air filters would be placed behind player benches to lessen the risk of airborne infection.
These precautions are in addition to the protocols already in place, including mandatory mask wearing by everyone except players during practices and games, limiting player’s social interactions and routine testing.
As of this week, the teams that currently have players on the COVID-19 protocol list include Ottawa, Philadelphia, New York (Rangers) and Las Vegas.