Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov were placed on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol-related absences list on Wednesday soon after it was announced the league had fined the Capitals $100,000 for a violation of health and safety protocols.
At some point, the team was going to have a brush with the coronavirus. It was essentially inevitable when trying to play a contact sport in a pandemic outside of a bubble. But the news is still a shock given that the team has not had anyone on the league's COVID list to this point.
Here's everything fans need to know.
The specific reason listed for the NHL's fine was "social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings."
As part of the NHL's COVID-19 protocols, players must each have their own rooms on road trips and cannot go into each other's rooms. Doing so would qualify as a social interaction among team members in close contact as described above and that appears to be exactly what happened.
Soon after the news came out on Wednesday, both Ovechkin and the team released statements.
"I regret my choice to spend time together with my teammates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas," Ovechkin's statement read. "I will learn from this experience."
The team's statement read, "We are disappointed by our players' choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas."
Does this mean they tested positive for the coronavirus?
No. Getting added to the NHL's COVID-19 list does not mean any of those players have tested positive. It is simply a way for the league to be transparent about players who are not able to participate due to COVID-19 related issues. This replaced the league's blanket policy from the summer of simply declaring players "unfit to play" regardless of the reason.
All, some or none of the players may have actually tested positive. Players can be added to the list as a precaution from a possible exposure or due to contact tracing. The actual reason they are on the list is not specified.
How much time will they miss?
There is no minimum requirement for how much time a player has to miss when added to the list. Having said that, their presence on the list certainly puts the status of all four players for Friday's home-opener against the Buffalo Sabres in question.
The Capitals were off on Wednesday and are scheduled to practice on Thursday so that will be our first look as to whether the players are being held out of team activities.
Could this affect Friday's game?
In terms of whether those four players are available to play, yes. We ultimately don't know if they will be available. In terms of a possible postponement, that seems doubtful unless the risk of COVID-19 becomes more widespread throughout the team.
Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to offer any specific criteria for a game to be postponed in a video conference with the media prior to the season. With a taxi squad of four to six players, it seems doubtful the league would consider any changes to the schedule because of the unknown status of four players, especially considering the issue stems from those players breaking the league's protocol.
What are the team's options if any or all of these players have to miss games?
For Ovechkin and Orlov, it is pretty straightforward. The team has an extra winger and an extra left defenseman on the active roster in Conor Sheary and Jonas Siegenthaler. If Ovechkin is out, Jakub Vrana would likely move up to the top line and Sheary will be added into the lineup. For Orlov, Brenden Dillon would probably move up to the top pair to play with John Carlson. Given how well Zdeno Chara and Nick Jensen have played together, plus the fact that Chara is 43, you could see Siegenthaler come out of the press box and put right into the top-four on the second pair with Justin Schultz.
If Samsonov is not available, the team will have to make an emergency recall from the taxi squad, likely for Craig Anderson.
Things are a little tricky for Kuznetsov, a center, if he is the only one of these four players not available.
First, a note on Connor McMichael. His specific status is not yet known regarding whether he is out of quarantine and skating with the taxi squad. Even if he is, however, it may not matter.
The normal rule for an emergency recall is that a team can only do this when it is without at least two goalies, six defensemen or 12 forwards. The league expanded its emergency recalls for the 2021 season due to the pandemic, however, so I am not sure if the team could get an emergency recall for Kuznetsov considering they have an extra forward already on the roster. If they can, then perhaps McMichael could get in or another taxi squad center such as Brian Pinho. If not, then the Caps would have to get creative.
Head coach Peter Laviolette could choose to dress Sheary as a 12th forward despite it giving them nine wingers and three centers or he could dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen, which seems more likely.