DETROIT – Just before the Detroit Red Wings were shut down by the NHL until at least Dec. 26, General Manager Steve Yzerman addressed his team’s and the league’s battle with COVID-19.
Detroit placed several players and coaches, including head coach Jeff Blashill, on the COVID protocol list over the weekend. Yzerman emphasized Saturday that vaccinated Red Wings players who have tested positive, and players around the league, have been either asymptomatic or experiencing cold-like symptoms.
“Players are testing positive with very little symptoms, if any symptoms at all,” said Yzerman. “I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point, so I think you might take it a step further and question why are we even testing for guys that have no symptoms?”
The league and NHL Players’ Association did not impose a vaccine mandate on players, but unvaccinated players face restrictions such as not being able to cross the border from the U.S. into Canada without a lengthy quarantine. They can also have their pay docked by their team. Red Wings forward Tyler Bertuzzi remains the last player without being vaccinated. He was on the COVID list earlier this month but returned healthy after a couple of weeks. The rest of the Red Wings, and the league, have been vaccinated, according to their teams.
Yzerman said his organization is encouraging players to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, and multiple players already have done so.
“The players, I think, ultimately they want to play ... none of the players have come to us and said, ‘Hey we should shut this down.’ If they feel that way they haven’t expressed that to us,” said Yzerman. “I think our players have been very positive in that, ‘Just tell us what we need to do and we’ll do it.’ They’ve been acceptive of the protocols, whether they like them or not is irrelevant, but they’ve been willing to do them.”
On Sunday, the NHL and its players association temporarily clamped down on teams crossing the Canadian border and shut down operations of two more teams, including the Red Wings, for a total of seven in hopes of salvaging the season as COVID-19 outbreaks spread across the league. Detroit’s home game against Colorado on Monday had been postponed because of the Avs’ COVID pause, then the Red Wings’ trip to Minnesota for Thursday’s game was called off.
Here is the full statement from the NHL on Sunday:
“We will continue to play the 2021-22 regular-season schedule. Although there has been a recent increase in positive COVID test results among Players, coaches and hockey staff, there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness. Therefore, the NHLPA’s and NHL’s medical experts have determined that, with virtually all Players and Club hockey staff fully vaccinated, the need to temporarily shut down individual teams should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. The effects of recently introduced enhanced prevention and detection measures will be evaluated daily. The NHL and NHLPA, along with their medical experts, will be monitoring not only the number and pattern of positive COVID results, but also the depth of Club line-ups so as to ensure both the health and safety of the Players and the integrity of League competition.”
The league statement included an important note about being “flexible and adaptable” with COVID protocols:
“With the number one priority of maintaining the health and safety of our NHL community, and amid changing and unpredictable conditions, we are determined to remain flexible and adaptable both in terms of scheduling and in adjusting Protocols as necessary.”
The NHL has a short holiday break Dec. 23 through Dec. 26. The Red Wings are still scheduled to play in New York against the Rangers on Monday, Dec. 27. View the full schedule here.
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