VOORHEES, N.J. — Just as the Flyers were ready to break their huddle around the whiteboard and start practice Monday, Kevin Hayes left for the dressing room.
Abrupt and unexpected departures are nearing the norm these days. Hayes became the Flyers' third player placed in the NHL's COVID protocol, joining Max Willman and Morgan Frost. Willman missed last Saturday's game as he entered COVID protocol, while Frost was removed during the first period of last Tuesday's game and has remained out. The Flyers also have two staff members in COVID protocol.
"It's creeping in a little bit into our group but we removed Kevin once we got the result," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Monday.
Teams originally tested every 72 hours, but last week the NHL enhanced its protocols to combat the rising concerns over the virus. Teams now conduct daily rapid tests. If a player tests positive, lab-based RT-PCR testing is used as a follow-up to determine a confirmed positive or negative.
According to the NHL's COVID protocol document from the start of this season, if a player tests as a confirmed positive but is asymptomatic, he will undergo daily lab-based RT-PCR tests. And if the player has two or more consecutive negative tests, he is eligible to exit his isolation and return as long as it adheres with local health laws.
If a player tests as a confirmed positive and is symptomatic, he must remain out for at least 10 days from when he originally felt symptoms, as well as at least 24 hours from his last fever.
"I think we're all concerned," Fletcher said. "You just look around the league, you look at the NFL, the NBA, our sport, it just seems like every day there are more positives. Clearly there's a surge going on right now in the world and we're all dealing with it. We're doing the best we can with the protocols. We're back to where we were last year in terms of masking and physical distancing."
The Flyers (12-12-5) have two more scheduled games before the NHL-mandated three-day holiday break: Tuesday at home against the Capitals (7 p.m. ET/ESPN+, Hulu) and Thursday on the road against the Penguins (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP+). Then, the Flyers don't play again until Dec. 29.
"Yesterday was a day off, which was a good thing I think for our group — keep everybody away and hopefully that can stem the tide of what seems to be happening," Fletcher said. "We'll just deal with it and we're no different than anybody else. We'll prepare to play tomorrow and Thursday and every game. Everybody's dealing with it, so we're just the same."
For Tuesday's game, if Hayes is in fact out, along with Willman and Frost, the Flyers will have to call up a forward.
"We'll head downstairs and try to figure that out," Flyers interim head coach Mike Yeo said. "We've got options. A guy like [Scott Laughton] can play in the middle and we'll see what we need to do there.
"As far as we're concerned, we have capable players, we have guys that can step in and fill the job, whether it's getting extra minutes or whether it's somebody getting called up. We'll make that decision shortly.
"This cannot be a reason for us not to be prepared to play. Let's treat it as a challenge."
Fletcher said the players and staff members who are in COVID protocol are doing fine. The Flyers did get some good news on the health front as Carter Hart practiced. The 23-year-old missed the Flyers' 4-3 OT win Saturday over the Senators because of an undetermined illness. Turned out, it was not COVID related.
"Didn't feel very good for about 36 hours, but he was back on the ice today and testing negative for COVID, feeling much better," Fletcher said.
The Flyers found out about Hart's sickness Saturday morning.
"If anybody's symptomatic, we remove them prior to even knowing of test results," Fletcher said. "Like with Carter Hart, he had some symptoms, so he was kept away even though we found out later on it was a non-COVID illness, at least as of this point. Clearly we're just trying to take all the precautions necessary."
Yeo said the Flyers were still deciding on if Hart or Martin Jones would start Tuesday.
"He's had a couple of rough days," Yeo said of Hart. "You saw that he wasn't really out there taking any extra after practice, so obviously we have to be smart here. He's been playing so well lately, both goalies have been doing a great job for us. Jonesy last game getting a big win for us. We have to be smart with how we approach the next game. We don't want to put Carter in a situation that could possibly hurt him or the team. We'll sort of reevaluate that tomorrow. ... We've got great options with both guys."
The Flyers are on a season-best five-game point streak (4-0-1). While they would like to stay on schedule for momentum purposes, the NHL has dealt with numerous postponements. Nine clubs are currently shut down through the holiday break.
"Everyone in the world, I think mentally it definitely tests you when you're going through different things like this, when things can change so fast. You have to basically be prepared for anything," James van Riemsdyk said. "We're definitely lucky to be able to continue to play and do what we do. This all something we love to do, is play hockey and do our job out there. But certainly it can be a little bit challenging when you're dealing with all these extra circumstances that don't usually happen in a normal season. It really emphasizes just trying to stay in the moment, control what you can control and go from there."
Van Riemsdyk had been playing on a line with Hayes and Willman.
"Tomorrow, who knows what's going to happen with who's going to be available and stuff like that," van Riemsdyk said. "Just be ready for that when that comes."
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