By JOHN WAWROW
AP Hockey Writer
With the number of coronavirus cases and game postponements climbing, the NHL is reintroducing enhanced COVID-19 protocols that include restricting players to staying in their hotels while on the road in a bid to limit a growing outbreak among players and staff.
The enhanced protocols will be put into effect immediately and last through at least Jan. 7, a person with direct knowledge of discussions between the NHL and NHL Players’ Association told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
Daily testing will also return for players and coaches as part of the decision, which was reached after two days of meetings and worsening conditions across the league on Wednesday as players and staff from three more teams were added to the league’s COVID-19 protocol list.
That included 17 members of the Calgary Flames, who also had a fourth game postponed (Saturday’s home matchup against Columbus). Coach Darryl Sutter and two assistants were on the list along with players including Rasmus Andersson, Johnny Gaudreau and others, raising the number of Calgary players in the protocol to 16.
The league said Calgary’s “return to game play is being delayed at least through Saturday” following discussions among medical experts. Calgary’s training facilities were closed to players until further notice.
Four teams — Calgary, Carolina, Ottawa and the New York Islanders — have had outbreaks force game postponements, a total of 10 in all. But alongside that is a growing number of affected players, who under typical COVID-19 guidance would be tested at least every 72 hours if vaccinnated.
More than 140 NHL players have been on the protocol list this season — including more than two dozen in the last two days — in a league that has proudly noted all but one of its approximately 700 players are considered fully vaccinnated. It is a discouraging trend for the league, which plans to allow its players to participate in the Winter Olympics in China in February unless COVID-19 disruptions prove to be too much.
In Boston, Patrice Bergeron became the third Bruins player in two days to enter the protocol, following leading scorer Brad Marchand and fellow forward Craig Smith. All three could be out until late December; coach Bruce Cassidy, who tested positive Nov. 30, just rejoined the team on Monday.
In Nashville, the Predators said coach John Hynes, two assistants and six players, including Mikael Granlund and Ryan Johansen, were now in COVID-19 protocol. The news came one day before the Predators were scheduled to host Colorado.
In the Ontario Hockey League, the Erie Otters suspended team activities Wednesday after 13 players tested positive for COVID-19. Two Erie games later this week were postponed.
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