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New NHL COVID-19 protocols increase restrictions for unvaccinated players


WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: A detailed view of the NHL logo on the back of the goal netting before the game between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena on October 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

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The NHL’s COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-22 season will see stiffer penalties and restrictions for unvaccinated players.

Top of the list of penalties is the ability for teams to suspend unvaccinated players if they are “unable to participate in club activities.” Players would forfeit pay for each day they miss, which could include being unable to travel because of local or federation regulations.

Medical reasons, “sincerely held religious beliefs,” contracting the virus “out of the course of employment as a hockey player,” and being deemed a high-risk close contact are exceptions.

The restrictions

On the road, unvaccinated players will only be allowed to enter the arena, team hotel, and practice facility; they cannot use any shared facilities such as hotel gyms, pools, saunas; they are not allowed to have teammates, team staff or visitors inside their hotel rooms unless they are fully-vaccinated family members; and they cannot leave the hotel to buy food or go to any restaurants and bars that are open to the public. Only curbside pickup is available as long and they do not have to go inside to pick up.

As preseason approaches, any unvaccinated players will have to quarantine for seven days before training camps open on Sept. 23. They will also be subject to daily testing throughout the season. Vaccinated players will take PCR tests every 72 hours. The NHL and NHLPA can change the frequency of testing after they meet on Nov. 1.

Players -- unvaccinated and fully vaccinated -- have the ability to opt out of the 2021-22 NHL season as long as they “can establish that an immediate family member with whom he shares a household is at substantially heightened risk of severe illness by contracting COVID-19.” If a player does choose to opt-out, his team will have 30 days to decide whether the contract will be tolled (rolled over to 2022-23) or if the player would lose this season on his deal. Players who opt out cannot play in another league or participate in the 2022 Olympics.

For fully-vaccinated players, if they produce a positive COVID-19 test, it “shall be treated as a hockey-related injury for all purposes” as per for the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


The NHL, IIHF, and IOC finalized an agreement that will see players participate in the Olympics for the first time since 2014. One detail that has been agreed upon is that any players taking part must be fully vaccinated. If conditions worsen as February approaches, the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt-out of the tournament if regular season games are canceled due to outbreaks and there is no ability to reschedule.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.