NHL COVID news: NHL to stop testing asymptomatic players; schedule update soon

When the NHL returns from its All-Star break in early February, it is expected that asymptomatic players and staff will no longer be subjected to COVID-19 testing.

The league and NHLPA have agreed on the matter, but nothing has been officially announced or finalized at this moment.

The NHL has had over 100 games postponed this season due to an increase in COVID-19 case, as well as attendance restrictions in Canada.

Based on the new agreement between the league and the players tests will only be adminsterred when it comes to border crossing requirements and in cases where players or staff have symptoms.

Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reported that the league informed teams that more than 73% of players have tested positive at some point this season, with approximately 60% testing positive in the past five weeks. Many (but not all) of those players remained asymptomatic. All but one NHL player (Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi) is vaccinated.

Schedule update expected this week

It is expected that the NHL will announce makeup dates in the coming days — perhaps even as soon as Wednesday — for most of the more than 100 games that have been postponed.

With NHL players no longer participating in the Olympics there is a three-week window in February that is going to be used to fill in the schedule for postponed games. It stands to reason that with so many games and teams impacted, and with so few dates open to actually reschedule games, that teams are going to have a very condensed schedule in the second half of the season. They should probably expect several back-to-back situations and perhaps even a handful of three games in four day stretches throughout the month.

NHL COVID news: Asymptomatic players won’t be tested; schedule update soon

When the NHL returns from its All-Star break in early February,  asymptomatic players and staff will no longer be subjected to COVID-19 testing.

The NHL has had over 100 games postponed this season due to an increase in COVID-19 case, as well as attendance restrictions in Canada.

Based on the new agreement between the league and the players tests will only be adminstered when it comes to border crossing requirements and in cases where players or staff have symptoms.

From the NHL:

Five-Day Isolation Period: The isolation period Protocol update issued Dec. 29 appears to be functioning well in its current form. A significant portion of Players appear to be exiting isolation after five days, with a lab-based PCR test that has a CT value >30.

Testing Protocol: The plan is to continue the current testing Protocol through Feb. 3. Provided positive test results continue to decline within the NHL, and pending review and agreement by Jan. 31 by the NHL’s and NHLPA’s medical experts, the Protocol will be updated as follows:

i. There will be no testing of Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff during the All-Star break (including for participating Players and staff), unless needed for travel or development of symptoms.

ii. There will be a single test upon re-entry to Club facilities post-All-Star, after which there will no longer be asymptomatic testing, or testing of Fully Vaccinated close contacts.

iii. Thereafter, testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis in Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff who develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel.

iv. The post-COVID “testing holiday” will remain at 90 days, but symptom-based testing can still be done at the team physician’s discretion. Testing for cross-border travel post-COVID will be dictated by the relevant health authority, which is currently 90 days for entry to the U.S. and 180 days for entry to Canada.

Enhanced Measures: The current enhanced preventive measures will remain in place in the short term. The NHLPA and NHL will meet on Jan. 31 to make recommendations for relaxation of the enhanced measures, providing rates continue to decline within the NHL.

Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff reported that the league informed teams that more than 73% of players have tested positive at some point this season, with approximately 60% testing positive in the past five weeks. Many (but not all) of those players remained asymptomatic. All but one NHL player (Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi) is vaccinated.

Schedule update expected this week

It is expected that the NHL will announce makeup dates in the coming days — perhaps even as soon as Wednesday — for most of the more than 100 games that have been postponed.

With NHL players no longer participating in the Olympics there is a three-week window in February that is going to be used to fill in the schedule for postponed games. It stands to reason that with so many games and teams impacted, and with so few dates open to actually reschedule games, that teams are going to have a very condensed schedule in the second half of the season. They should probably expect several back-to-back situations and perhaps even a handful of three games in four day stretches throughout the month.

KHL to suspend season for a week because of COVID-19 cases

MOSCOW — The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League, a key source of players for Olympic teams, decided Wednesday to suspend its season for a week because of coronavirus outbreaks at many clubs.

The KHL said it will stop play from Saturday and resume on Jan. 22. The league said it knew of positive tests for 124 players around the league as of Tuesday morning, with 27 of those cases reported within the previous 24 hours.

The KHL website already listed 16 games rescheduled or canceled.

After the NHL withdrew from the Olympics last month, the KHL became crucial to assembling national teams for next month’s Beijing Games.

Gold-medal favorite Russia and host nation China are both expected to send squads of KHL players. Most of the other nations in the 12-team Olympic men’s tournament are expected to call on at least some players from the KHL.

Sharks waive Evander Kane to terminate contract; grievance likely

In a surprising development, the San Jose Sharks placed Evander Kane on unconditional waivers with the intention to terminate his contract on Saturday.

Sharks waive Evander Kane to terminate contract; more steps to come

If no other NHL team claims Evander Kane on waivers and the contract termination goes through, the Sharks would remove Kane’s cap hit, which is $7 million per year through 2024-25. Cap Friendly notes that Kane would forfeit $22.885M. Before that move, Kane’s contract was “buried” in the AHL, still carrying a $5.875M cap charge.

In their statement regarding terminating Kane’s contract, the Sharks claim a “violation of the AHL COVID-19 protocols.” The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz is among those who report that the AHL COVID violation may stem from Kane allegedly traveling to Vancouver while COVID positive:

At the moment, it sounds like the NHLPA is figuring out what to do next.

Multiple sources told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that the NHLPA is “absolutely expected” to file a grievance on Evander Kane’s part to prevent that contract termination.

It’s not yet clear if Evander Kane can sign with a different NHL team while a grievance is being handled with the Sharks. Cap Friendly indicates that it’s possible, and highlights a March 21 deadline for when Kane can sign with a team and suit up for playoff games.

[More on that 21-game suspension]

This comes after the NHL suspended Evander Kane for 21 games for allegedly using a fake vaccination card. (For what it’s worth, the NHL announced that it “could not substantiate” other claims against Kane, including that he allegedly gambled on games.)

That NHL suspension ran through Nov. 30. After that, the 30-year-old cleared waivers and then played five games for the Sharks AHL affiliate (the San Jose Barracuda). Kane entered AHL COVID protocol in late December.

Clearly, there are more steps to come for the Sharks, Evander Kane, and the NHL. The first step is Kane actually clearing waivers, which is likely to be confirmed by Sunday afternoon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL COVID news: Maple Leafs’ Marner added to protocol list

Let’s go over the latest NHL COVID news, with Toronto Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner ranking as the biggest name added to protocol. Scroll for a couple important injury bits, too.

Maple Leafs add Marner, Engvall to NHL COVID protocol list

Much like other teams, the Maple Leafs dealt with plenty of players going in and out of NHL COVID protocol over the last month or so. Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall avoided entering NHL COVID protocol … until now, it seems.

While Marner hasn’t put up huge offensive numbers by his standards in 2021-22 (21 points in 26 games), he’s clearly important to the Maple Leafs. In particular casual fans may underestimate his positive defensive impact.

Evolving Hockey captures Marner’s all-around impact nicely with this player card from the past few seasons.

Between injury issues and now this stint in NHL COVID protocol, it’s been a disruptive 2021-22 season for Marner (and, to be fair, many others). But he’s a tough player for Toronto to replace.

Pierre Engvall isn’t as prominent, naturally, but he’s a nice depth player.

With Marner and Engvall out, players like Alexander Kerfoot could take on bigger roles. It also opens the door for Nick Ritchie shortly after he was placed on waivers.

NHL postpones Senators games; Jets home game update

In a growing trend, the NHL postponed two Ottawa Senators games for capacity reasons. The Senators were originally slated to play on the road against the Canucks and the Jets on these dates:

Saturday, Jan. 8
Ottawa @ Vancouver

Saturday, Jan. 15
Ottawa @ Winnipeg

Once again, the NHL expressed hope that COVID-related capacity restrictions “may be eased or lifted.”

Speaking of the NHL dealing with COVID-related attendance challenges in Canada, the Jets won’t move their home games after all. After flirting with the idea of playing home games in Saskatoon, the Jets dropped that idea. As former PHT writer Scott Billeck notes, the Jets dropped the Saskatoon idea after considering fan feedback.

Assorted NHL COVID and injury news, including Shesterkin

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL COVID news: Situations unclear for Matthews, McDavid

Another day, another round of NHL COVID news and updates. Grim? Sure, but also necessary. On Tuesday, we saw more NHL players enter COVID protocol, although the biggest names remain in limbo: Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.

Murky COVID situations for both Matthews and McDavid

Will Connor McDavid and/or Auston Matthews suit up for the Oilers and Maple Leafs, respectively, on Wednesday? At the moment, the answers are unclear.

On Monday, the Maple Leafs held Matthews out of practice after a positive COVID test. The latest news is promising: Matthews isn’t ruled out for Wednesday’s Maple Leafs – Oilers game after his second test came back negative.

Overall, pretty good news for Matthews, yet it’s probably best to label that a “wait-and-see” situation.

It sounds like the same applies to Connor McDavid and whether or not he’ll enter COVID protocol.

[Oilers suffered another tough loss on Monday]

Like Matthews, McDavid missed Tuesday’s practice. Oilers coach Dave Tippett confirmed that McDavid (and fellow forward Derek Ryan) both tested positive for COVID, although the team is awaiting a second test.

With occasional Tippett coach firing rumblings (sometimes paired with Mike Babcock speculation) and an Oilers fan base grumbling, Edmonton could use all the help it can get. We’ll see if McDavid (or Matthews) can suit up for what would normally be a treat of a game.

Wild COVID, injury, on-ice struggles open up Boldy, Rossi auditions

Generally, NHL COVID news mainly feels either overwhelmingly bad or refreshingly good, depending upon the situation. (Unfortunately, it’s usually bad news.)

With the Wild’s current COVID/call-up/etc. news, it’s more of a mixed bag.

Granted, the bad parts are the heaviest.

So, yeah, not great. But it appears that all of those issues opened the door for intriguing Wild prospects Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi. In breaking down the Wild’s strengths and weaknesses, an impotent power play stands out. It sounds like Boldy and Rossi may get some early opportunities to see if they can be part of a solution.

For plenty of NHL teams, COVID has forced young players into the limelight, likely earlier than planned. The Wild just happen to boast especially intriguing talents in that regard.

(If you’re especially interested in prospects, you’ve likely been daydreaming about how Boldy and Rossi might mesh with Kirill Kaprizov. Should be fun.)

Other NHL COVID news and notes

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Rangers top standings (by points) after beating Oilers

Top player from Rangers vs. Oilers

Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers

Plenty of people will focus on these tough times for the Oilers, which the Rangers added to during the only NHL game on Monday. No doubt, Mikko Koskinen‘s gaffe to allow the Rangers’ first goal will draw a lot of attention.

But don’t ignore how great Alexandar Georgiev was in helping the Rangers hold off (then pull away from) the Oilers. Georgiev made 33 out of 34 saves, including stopping a Leon Draisaitl to Connor McDavid chance that got Madison Square Garden rocking.

Sure, you can argue that McDavid maybe didn’t get all of that. Still quite a stop. Most of all, the reaction from the crowd really brought it to another level.

It wasn’t the only chance McDavid had either, as he fired seven shots on goal, and fed teammates for some Grade-A opportunities as well. Rangers – Oilers was closer than the 4-1 New York win would indicate, and Georgiev was a big reason why.

Although Georgiev took the cake, the Rangers provided honorable mentions. Ryan Strome enjoyed a strong night, scoring a goal and two assists. Adam Fox collected two assists, while both Alexis Lafrenière and Barclay Goodrow both scored a goal and an assist.

Rangers – Oilers highlights

Watch the Rangers beat the Oilers 4-1 in these highlights:

Monday NHL takeaways

Senators game postponed; Auston Matthews tests positive for COVID

Catch up on the NHL COVID news from Monday in this post.

NHL Power Rankings; A look at Kraken’s troubles

In case you missed some Monday NHL content from PHT, read up with the latest Power Rankings and also a breakdown of the Kraken’s bumpy first season, both by Adam Gretz.

After beating Oilers, Rangers sit atop NHL standings — at least by points

Apply heavy caveats here. But, yes, at the end of Monday, the Rangers sat atop the NHL standings — at least by sheer points — by reaching 48 points (they hold the tiebreaker edge over the Capitals, also at 48).

Naturally, with COVID disrupting an NHL schedule that already lends itself to games played disparities, that’s misleading. In their division alone, the Rangers (48 points in 34 games) are unlikely to hold off the Hurricanes (47 points in 31 GP).

Even so, the Rangers sure feel ahead of schedule, don’t they? (Or they went from lagging a bit to meeting expectations?) This is a team with plenty of weapons, and against a flawed Oilers team with some of the deadliest weapons in the game, the Rangers looked very promising.

Still coming to grips with it being 2022? Catch up on ‘last year’ with PHT

The gang over here at PHT hit the high and low notes of 2021. As much as the league wants fewer interruptions in 2022, here’s hoping that, most of all, people stay as safe as possible.

Tuesday’s big story

Golden Knights – Predators a test of two hot teams with very different expectations

If someone told you that the Predators would head into early 2022 with just about the same points percentage (.636) as the Golden Knights (.643), how would you feel? Would you assume something went wrong for Vegas?

While the Golden Knights certainly haven’t enjoyed the greatest injury luck this season, they’re more or less positioned as expected. With games in hand, the Flames have a strong chance to grab the Pacific Division title from Vegas. Still, though, this feels a bit like business as usual.

The same can’t be said of the Predators, who seemed to enter 2021-22 in an existential crisis.

Instead, they enter the calendar year of 2022 on a roll. That’s what could make Tuesday’s game especially fun, as the Predators are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, and the Golden Knights are almost as hot (7-2-1).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL COVID news: Senators game postponed, Matthews tests positive

It’s a new year, but COVID problems haven’t totally slowed down for the NHL. Here’s a collection of NHL COVID news, from Auston Matthews to the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers.

Senators – Kraken become 92 postponed NHL game as Sens’ COVID issues pile up

As the list of Senators in NHL COVID protocol swells, the team’s schedule continues to get disrupted. The Senators already saw Monday’s game against the Wild postponed, and now Thursday’s game against the Kraken has also been postponed.

When you consider how many Senators are in NHL COVID protocol, postponed games shouldn’t be too big of a surprise. On Monday, Thomas Chabot, Zach Sanford, Chris Tierney, and assistant coach Bob Jones joined that growing list. The Senators added Nick Paul, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Dillon Heatherington to a list that already included Josh Norris and Tyler Ennis.

If the Senators don’t have any other games postponed due to NHL COVID protocol, here’s what their schedule would look like lately:

  • Saturday, Dec. 18: 4-3 OT loss to the Flyers, Ottawa’s last game of the 2021 calendar year.
  • Saturday, Jan. 1: 6-0 loss to the Maple Leafs.
  • Saturday, Jan. 8: a scheduled road game against the Canucks — if that goes to plan.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but wonder if at least some portion of that 9-18-2 Senators team secretly dreams of forfeits.

Maple Leafs wait on second COVID test after Matthews tests positive

The Maple Leafs held Auston Matthews (and assistant Dean Chynoweth) out of Monday’s practice after they tested positive for COVID-19. Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said the team is awaiting a PCR test for Matthews to see if that was a false positive.

Those test results are expected by Tuesday morning.

For what it’s worth, Matthews and the Maple Leafs faced the Senators on Saturday (Jan. 1), and Chabot, Sanford, and Tierney dressed for the Senators in that game.

More NHL COVID news: Multiple Panthers enter protocol; Stars hope to resume

Here are even more NHL COVID news and notes.

“We’re very fortunate to have a lot of depth,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said, via George Richards. “It is someone else’s turn to step up and do the job for us.”

  • Other players who entered NHL COVID protocol on Monday included: Zach Werenski (Blue Jackets), Kyle Okposo (Sabres), and Casey Fitzgerald (Sabres).
  • Meanwhile, the Dallas Stars hope to resume their schedule Thursday against (gulp) the Panthers. A bunch of Stars were removed from NHL COVID protocol, including Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, and Ryan Suter.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canadiens pause through Jan. 6, home games postponed through Jan. 10

It was a profound mess, but the Montreal Canadiens got through their Saturday game (a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers). Whether it was truly worth it to play that game shorthanded or not, they won’t suit up again for quite a while. The Canadiens’ home games have been postponed through Jan. 10, and all team activities have been paused through Jan. 6.

(That Jan. 6 pause also applies to the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate.)

“Given all the new positive cases arising daily, and for the health of our players and staff, we feel that pausing our activities is necessary at this time,” Canadiens executive Jeff Gorton said in a statement. “This pause will give our players the time they need to recover so that we can continue the season safely.”

Canadiens get through game shorthanded, multiple postponed contests

Truly, it’s a little baffling that Panthers forward Sam Reinhart used the word “infectious” to describe his team’s play after Saturday’s game against the Canadiens.

Heading into that game, the Canadiens were massively shorthanded thanks to COVID protocol and injuries. Montreal only dressed 11 forwards and five skaters, and that number fell in-game after Cedric Paquette was injured.

Now, for what’s next.

Sportsnet’s Eric Engels described the process Jake Evans, Alexander Romanov and some other Canadiens players expect to grow through after entering COVID protocol.

Provided he’s asymptomatic, Evans will be in isolation for five days in a Florida hotel room, and then he’ll likely fly to Plattsburgh, N.Y., before being driven over the border to Montreal. Same goes for Romanov and Brandon Baddock, while Cayden Primeau will come out of his isolation and head to New Jersey for the remaining nine days it takes to be permitted to fly back to Montreal.

Again, at the moment, the Canadiens’ home games are postponed through Jan. 10, and all activities are paused through Jan. 6. We’ll see if anything else changes, as the league wrestles with these challenges on-the-fly.

This all comes after the NHL postponed additional games due to Canada’s COVID restrictions on Friday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Rink Wrap: Predators’ streak ends; Canucks keep winning

Top players from Wednesday in the NHL

John Carlson, Capitals

Year in and year out, John Carlson just keeps scoring a metric ton of points.

When Carlson signed an eight-year, $64 million deal with the Capitals in 2018, the thought was that he might sink quickly. Instead, he’s only picking up steam. Maybe the Capitals will eventually cringe at Carlson’s $8M cap hit, but right now, the 31-year-old continues to deliver.

During the NHL action on Wednesday, Carlson generated a goal and three assists for a four-point night during a 5-3 Washington win, which snapped Nashville’s seven-game win streak. This pushes Carlson to an impressive 30 points in 32 games, good for third among NHL defensemen.

It’s still relatively early in the season (we think), but Carlson’s also quieting the knock on his all-around game. Consider his positive all-around impact, as you can see from his Evolving Hockey RAPM chart:

NHL Rink Wrap: Predators can't keep winning streak alive vs. Capitals John Carlson
via Evolving Hockey

At times, awards voters can’t help but hand out the occasional “lifetime achievement” trophy. That logic might propel Carlson in a Norris Trophy debate, but at least this would be as good a year as ever for him to receive that recognition.

(If he keeps this up.)

J.T. Miller, Canucks

The Canucks extended their winning streak under Bruce Boudreau to seven games with a 2-1 overtime victory against the Ducks. Miller had a hand in both goals, setting up Tanner Pearson‘s opener early in the third period and then netting the deciding tally in the extra period.

Boudreau is now the third NHL coach (Geoff Ward, Calgary / Jacques Lemaire / New Jersey) to begin his start with a new team with seven consecutive wins.

Highlights from NHL games on Wednesday

An incredible bit of work from Rasmus Dahlin. First, Dahlin deftly pickpockets his opponent. Then he sends a tremendous breakout pass to Tage Thompson, who scored a goal with some great moves of his own:

Observe the Capitals achieving pure passing perfection. The Predators put up a fight, but the Capitals ended their winning streak at seven games. (More on that in the takeaways.)

Artemi Panarin pulled off some “only in video games” moves to beat Sergei Bobrovsky.

NHL takeaways from Wednesday

COVID prompts IIHF to cancel 2022 World Junior Championship

On Tuesday, things started to unravel for the 2022 World Junior Championship, with positive tests and a forfeit by the U.S. team. It looked like at least two other games would be canceled on Wednesday, and ultimately the IIHF pulled the plug on the remainder of the tournament.

NHL tweaks COVID protocols, at least in the U.S.

Before the NHL action began on Wednesday, the league announced tweaks to COVID protocol. Well, at least in the United States.

Like other sports leagues, the NHL cut down on isolation days (10 days to five) for players who test positive for COVID but are essentially asymptomatic. Here’s how that is phrased: “if symptoms are gone or resolving themselves with a negative PCR test or two negative rapid test results taken more than two hours apart.”

Click here for more on the COVID policy tweaks the NHL will follow for a couple weeks in the U.S. Do note that Canada has stricter policies (and also that the schedule has been changed in reaction to differing policies in the two countries).

Predators rally from down 3-0, but Capitals end Nashville’s winning streak

For a while, it seemed like the Capitals wouldn’t just end the Predators’ winning streak. After generating a 3-0 lead in the first period, there was potential for embarrassment.

Instead, the Predators roared back during the second period, answering with three goals. (They scored two of those goals in a span of 35 seconds.)

In the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s shorthanded goal ended up being the difference-maker, while the Capitals also scored an empty-netter to widen the gap vs. the Predators. Really, it’s interesting that a special teams play made the difference, as both teams were hapless on the power play. (Capitals went 0-for-6, Predators were 0-for-4 with that shorthanded goal allowed.)

The Predators might kick themselves mainly for seeing their winning streak end despite nearly stealing this one. Washington generated a 37-20 shots on goal advantage, including a 26-14 edge after that lopsided first period.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Capitals won, and now that winning streak is over for the Predators.

Thursday’s big story

Sunshine state showdown: Panthers vs. Lightning

Heading into the 2021-22 NHL season, plenty in the hockey world hoped that the Panthers might hold up their end of the bargain, and build on a potential rivalry with the Lightning.

It’s too early to tell if the Panthers can truly match the might of the defending repeat Stanley Cup champion Lightning, but they’ve done just about everything right so far. (Even considering an unexpected coaching change.)

With both teams playing at a high level, Panthers – Lightning on Thursday could end up being a playoff preview, and perhaps a taste of a legitimate, budding NHL rivalry.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and the Hurricanes also face the Canadiens on Thursday, although he already made his return to Montreal earlier, and things will be less contentious for him in Carolina. Still, it’s a situation to watch now that Kotkaniemi is heating up.

Wednesday’s NHL scores

Panthers 4, Rangers 3
Devils 4, Sabres 3
Capitals 5, Predators 3
Blues 4, Oilers 2
Canucks 2, Ducks 1 (OT)
Flyers 3, Kraken 2 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.