Dmitry Orlov and Carl Hagelin returned to action on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks. Both players missed the prior two games while in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol. The only problem was, neither player felt sick.
"Sucks when you don’t have any symptoms,” Orlov said.
“It’s frustrating," Hagelin said. "It’s one of those things, everyone’s going to get it and you’re missing games but feeling really good. In a normal year, you’ll play every game even though you feel terrible some games. That’s part of it and you’re hoping they’ll change some of these rules going forward."
As frustrating as it was to miss two games, Orlov and Hagelin were actually fortunate as the Capitals had a four-day break between games preventing them from missing more. Conor Sheary -- who entered COVID protocol on Saturday -- and John Carlson -- who entered Sunday -- are not so lucky. Washington will be without Sheary for at least four games and Carlson for at least three.
That's just par for the course for the Caps this season as the team has had to deal with players coming in and out of the lineup all season long. But a change to the league's testing policy may provide some relief for the Caps and for teams across the NHL.
As announced Tuesday, the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to updated testing protocols that will no longer require fully vaccinated players who are asymptomatic to get tested. Current protocols will remain until Feb. 3. After the All-Star break, there will be one test for re-entry to team facilities and, after that, fully vaccinated players and staff will only be tested if they develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel. The 90-day break from testing for anyone who has recovered from COVID will remain in place.
The NHL saw a surge in positive cases across the league in later December leading to the postponement of 104 games. It also led to a lot of frustration.
"It's weird," Connor McMichael said. "Every game you're kind of playing with different guys because guys are going in and out of the lineup every night."
Players were being held out and games were getting postponed despite very few players actually exhibiting any symptoms of COVID. It also led to some bizarre situations that made it easy to question the logic and efficacy of the current policy.
Sheary and Carlson, for example, were held out of warmups for Saturday's game as they had to wait for the results of a re-test. Sheary then entered the protocol while Carlson received a negative test and was able to join warmups late and play that night. The very next day, Carlson tested positive and entered COVID protocol.
"Sucks to don’t have symptoms," Orlov said. "It’s like you sick, we understand, but when you don’t have anything it’s just frustrating. It’s kind of just the norm and I think a lot of people in the league feel the same way. I think it's tough to figure out, you know? People with terrible flu in locker rooms without the masks and fever and still playing. And right now, it’s tough. You can complain about everything but it is what it is.”
Only one player in the NHL has not been vaccinated and 73% of the league have tested positive this season. Both factors should prevent another major outbreak or any serious symptoms to the players who do catch it. With that in mind, this new policy should also prevent any further significant disruptions as opposed to the old policy that, to many, has felt far too restrictive.
"Once you've gotten it and the symptoms haven't been that bad, you're past it," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "So the cases should come down. Guys have had it. ... So that's a good thing for the league and a good thing for teams to be able to jump right in and start playing games again."