The NHL is revising its COVID protocols for the playoffs once teams hit vaccination thresholds, according to a memo obtained by ESPN.
The changes, for now, only affect United States-based teams, as Canada is much further behind in its vaccine rollout.
The NHL informed teams Friday night that once 85% of a traveling party is fully vaccinated, it can have greater freedoms. That includes gathering in social groups of up to eight people indoors or outdoors. Players will be able to gather in each other’s hotel rooms and eat on flights and buses. Players also will be allowed to eat and drink at restaurants with outdoor dining.
According to the new protocols, masks will not be required in the practice facility or non-public areas of arenas for fully vaccinated individuals. Also, fully vaccinated players and coaches will no longer need to undergo PCR testing on off days.
Fully vaccinated players will be allowed to use saunas and steam rooms at team facilities and valet park their cars. The NHL also said players are allowed to play golf as a group, as long as they do not enter the clubhouse or indoor areas.
The NHL had remained one of the strictest leagues in North America when it came to COVID-19 protocols. The NBA and MLB have both already eased restrictions for teams once they hit an 85% vaccination threshold.
“They told me yesterday that they’re surveying all the teams to see who has taken the vaccine and who has not taken the vaccines, and they’re not going to change the rules for us as players until all the players have the vaccine at the same time so it’s not a competitive edge,” Lehner said in an impassioned news conference in April. “That made me go crazy, to be honest. This is human lives and people are struggling with this stuff a lot in society, and we are humans as everyone else.”
Lehner, who has been an advocate for mental health, said he believed the league’s stringent policies were affecting players’ mental health.
The NHL disputed some of Lehner’s claims. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN at the time that the league and players’ association had been discussing the possibilities of easing restrictions but had yet to come to a final conclusion.
Sources told ESPN that, with the majority of players on United States-based teams being offered access to vaccination, the NHL felt that it could ease restrictions for the playoffs.