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NHL announces COVID-19 protocols, rule change for 2020-21 season

NHL season

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 28: A general view is seen of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final official game puck before Game Six of the NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place on September 28, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

On Tuesday evening the NHL announced its COVID-19 protocols, as well as a potentially significant rule change, for the 2020-21 season.

Let’s dig into it.

Key COVID-19 Protocols

The NHL protocols are lengthy, but here are some of the main key points.

• Home teams must make their home rink or practice rink available to visiting teams. Visiting teams are not permitted to use rinks owned by third parties. Team practices will also not be open to the public.

• Players will be prohibited from carpooling to games, there will be no road trip roommates, and teams must secure an additional two hotel rooms on road trips in the event of a positive COVID-19 test.

• Players will also only be permitted to go to the rink and hotel on road trips. No other destinations, including bars, restaurants, clubs, etc., will be permitted.

[Related: NHL confirms key dates for 2020-21 NHL season]

• During the regular season the NHL will announce the names of players that test positive, but will not do so during training camp when it will simply release league wide numbers.

• Coaches must wear masks while on the bench.

• For symptomatic players that test positive. From the league protocol:

A positive test of an individual who exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 shall not be subject to further confirmatory testing under this Protocol. Such individual’s COVID-19 positive status will be considered confirmed if, in the opinion of the treating physician(s), there is no basis to doubt the individual’s COVID-19 positive status. These individuals shall be required to isolate until medical clearance is obtained. The Club Physician shall immediately coordinate contact tracing with their infectious disease consultant and local health authority

And the protocol for symptomatic players that test negative.

Individuals who develop infectious respiratory symptoms, but who test negative for COVID-19, shall have their clinical care and clearance managed by the Club Physician in consultation with the Club’s infectious disease expert, and they shall continue to be monitored with daily PCR testing

• For asymptomatic players that have an initial positive test the following procedure will be followed.

  • Following the initial positive, the player will be isolated and contact tracing will begin.
  • A confirmatory test will be conducted 24 hours later. If that test is negative, a second test will be conducted 24 hours after that. If that second test is negative, a third confirmatory test will be conducted 24 hours after that. If any of those tests come back positive the player will remain isolated and contact tracing will continue.
  • If all three confirmatory tests come back negative the player will be allowed to exit isolation, resume training, while the contacts will also be released from isolation.

Change to offside rule for 2020-21 NHL season

The NHL also announced one fairly significant rule change for this season, and it will impact how offsides is enforced.

Starting this season, players will no longer have to have their skate in contact with the blue line to remain onside. The blue line now becomes a vertical plane.

From the league:

83.1 Off-side - Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone.

The position of the player’s skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.

(NEW) - A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line. On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.

This has been a talking point for years in the league, especially with offside reviews highlighting just how many goals get overturned because a player’s skate was a quarter of an inch off the ice when the puck enters the zone. This rule change will allow for more goals, and that is good for everybody.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.