With the delta variant surging in North America and contrasting border policies between Canada and the United States complicating team travel, the NHL and NHLPA have been hard at work crafting the revised COVID-19 policies for the 2021-22 season.
On August 13, the NHL released a memo to all NHL teams advising that teams and close personnel should be vaccinated for the 2021-22 season. That statement was revised in the rules the NHL and NHLPA have jointly outlined and released to the teams on September 3.
For vaccinated players, it’s business as usual. They will be PCR tested at a minimum of every three days, and if they contract COVID-19, their condition will be treated as a “hockey-related injury” per the CBA. The NHL has previously stated that a majority of the league is vaccinated, so teams shouldn’t have to jump through too many hoops with their players when it comes to federal and state guidelines.
However, there will always be a few people who decide not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, due to religious or medical reasons, or their own personal choice. Rather than mandate the vaccine, the league has chosen to heavily restrict unvaccinated players instead, for the continued health and safety of the rest of the team, personnel and staff.
Teams have the ability to suspend unvaccinated players who would otherwise be unable to play due to government restrictions and/or mandated travel quarantines, or a positive test. For each day missed due to a positive test or their unvaccinated status, players will lose the equivalent of one day’s pay, unless they are unvaccinated due to medical or religious reasons.
Unvaccinated players must be tested daily, and while on the road, they will be unable to enter any venues that are not their hotel room (shared hotel facilities such as the gym or restaurants are prohibited and they are not allowed to have teammates or personnel inside their room), practice facility or game arena.
The NHL has also mandated that any hockey club personnel who has close contact with players (within twelve feet) regularly must be fully vaccinated by the start of the season. This rule has already had an impact on the San Jose Sharks — assistant coach Rocky Thompson has stated that he is unable to be vaccinated for COVID-19 due to unrevealed medical reasons, and as such has stepped down for this season.
The NHL’s COVID protocols also cover opting-out. Any player who decides to opt-out of this coming season must do so by October 1. Players can opt-out because they are unvaccinated, or they are fully vaccinated but share a household with someone who is at an increased risk of COVID-19. Teams will have the option of rolling the player’s contract over to the 2022-23 season, or removing the season entirely from their contract agreement. If a player does opt out of the upcoming 2021-22 season, they will be barred from playing in the Olympics or in another league.
Fans aren’t exempt from the COVID protocols either, although each city, county and province/state has its own rules and guidelines regarding arena usage and in-game experiences. For Sharks fans, beginning September 20, all guests age 12 and older must show proof of vaccination in order to enter any Sharks buildings, without exemptions. The SAP Center itself has its own rules for guests, which can be found here.