NHL decides to stop COVID testing asymptomatic players

new york rangers
Jan 7, 2020; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Artemi Panarin (10) and center Ryan Strome (16) celebrate after a goal by defenseman Brady Skjei (76) against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Stier-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL will stop testing asymptomatic players and staff following the All-Star break next month, ESPN and The Athletic reported Tuesday.

Testing still will be required for cross-border travel and, of course, for those who show symptoms of COVID-19.

The league and the NHLPA have reached an agreement on the new protocol, per the reports. However, the sides will meet again at the end of the month to formalize the change, provided cases are in decline, per the reports.

All-Star Weekend is Feb. 4-5 in Las Vegas. Players will be tested prior to arriving but not once they are there.

The league moved to daily testing in December but has softened some policies since, including reducing the isolation period from 10 days to five for players and staff who are asymptomatic.

Credit Steve Yzerman

Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman raised an interesting question regarding testing before his team was shutdown prior to Holiday Break.

“At the end of the day, our players are testing positive with very little symptoms, if any symptoms at all,” Yzerman said. “I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point. So I think we need to take it a step further and question why are we even testing guys that have no symptoms?”

While this received some criticism, after he said it, several players hopped on board with the suggestion.

Yzerman’s comments received a smattering of public support with Winnipeg Jets’ goalie Connor Hellebuyck and St. Louis Blues’ captain Ryan O’Reilly being the most prominent voices. After yesterday’s rash of positive tests, more spoke out.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but the feeling for myself … it’s a little overkill,” Hellebuyck said. “You see leagues like the NFL, who are adapting and, I think, doing things right.”

“I agree with those guys. We’ve got guys vaccinated, double vaccinated. Some guys aren’t showing any symptoms and they’re popping in COVID protocol,” O’Reilly threw in his support. “I think I’d like to see testing if you have symptoms but it’s not up to me. It’s a league and players decision.”

Strome agreed with Yzerman

ryan strome
Apr 25, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Ryan Strome #16 of the New York Rangers smiles during warm ups before the game against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden on April 25, 2021 in New York City. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Strome, who had a bout with COVID earlier in the season agreed with Yzerman and some of his fellow NHLPA members.

“I think we probably have to change the protocols,” Strome said. “Like, the NBA and the NFL are playing. I think the way the other leagues have handled it, obviously it seems to be working and they’re playing games and we’re watching the football games after practice. I think with everything, we have to evolve with what we’ve gone through and I think it’s probably time to look at things.”

The New York Rangers head coach was asked about the current state of the NHL with COVID that’s led to so many postponements back in December. He took a more diplomatic approach.

“There’s a lot of people trying to do the best thing they can to keep people safe and that’s the number one factor,” Gallant said. “The NHL ad NHLPA work hard to keep the players safe and our staff safe and that’s the most important thing for me. You want to play games, everybody wants to play games, but there are protocols to go by and I’m on board for that.”

Adam Fox added his thoughts on the situation at that time noting that he’s not nervous about what’s going on with COVID because of the vaccine.

“We’re all vaccinated and not many guys have been getting sick from it,” he said. “You heard stories last year of guys hit pretty hard by it. This year you see guys coming back and not missing a beat.”

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–Field Level Media contributed to this report