NHL to Relax COVID-19 Protocols for Playoff Teams That Are 85% Vaccinated

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVMay 8, 2021

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 02:  A general view of the NHL Logo on the scoreboard during the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders on March 2, 2021 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ..(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NHL sent out a memo Friday that confirmed playoff teams with a traveling party that reaches a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 85 percent will have their protocol restrictions eased for the postseason.

TSN's Frank Seravalli reported Saturday the rules for clubs that meet the threshold will allow for "greater freedoms with regards to masks, testing, team meetings, social gatherings and travel."

The change is expected to have a much greater impact on American-based teams than those in Canada, with none of the four Canadian teams that will qualify for the playoffs believed to be "anywhere close" to 85 percent, per Seravalli.

Travel between the United States and Canada has been restricted throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which led the NHL to create a Canadian-only division in order to complete its 2020-21 season. Details remain unsettled about how the winner of that North Division will be reintegrated for the Stanley Cup semifinals.

The updated guidelines for "fully vaccinated players," the NHL's term for individuals who are at least two weeks removed from their final dose of the vaccine, include the ability to gather in groups of eight vaccinated people and have vaccinated people in their hotel rooms, per Seravalli.

Coaches can hold team meetings without masks and there's no distance requirement unless an unvaccinated individual is involved.

Vaccinated members of the traveling party can also resume activities like golfing and outdoor dining with other vaccinated people.

In April, Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner, a mental health advocate with bipolar disorder, told Jesse Granger of The Athletic some players reluctantly received the vaccine under the belief it would lead to loosened restrictions immediately. The NHL denied that promise was made.

"It's been hard. But I'm not talking about just myself here, it’s everyone," Lehner said of the protocols' impact. "I don't have the statistics, but I just know. People reach out to me. Throughout the league, throughout normal people in [everyday] life. And I've seen the consequences."

The Stanley Cup playoffs could start as soon as next weekend.

While the non-Canadian divisions will wrap up the regular season by May 13, the North will continue through May 19 to complete make-up games from COVID-19 postponements. The NHL announced it may not wait for the North to start the the other divisions' playoffs.

The Stanley Cup is on track to get awarded in July, which would allow the league to return to a more normal October start for the 2021-22 campaign.