Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman questions testing asymptomatic players for COVID-19

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings‘ expanding list of team personnel in COVID-19 protocol prompted general manager Steve Yzerman to question the daily testing mandated by the NHL as the virus has infiltrated pro sports as it has the world.

Wings head coach Jeff Blashill and starting goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic are among seven Wings in quarantine.  Around the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche, whose Monday game at Detroit was postponed, and the Florida Panthers have had their seasons shut down through the Christmas holiday break because of an outbreak of COVID.

“What’s important to know is that all of our players, coaches, the teams around the league — nobody has experienced any significant illness in getting the virus,” Yzerman said Saturday. “It’s not more than, at this point, a minor cold.”

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Robby Fabbri, Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Carter Rowney, and assistant coach Alex Tanguay also are in protocol. Tyler Bertuzzi (the only player in the NHL who is not vaccinated) and Marc Staal emerged from quarantine Dec. 13, and Danny DeKeyser has also been in protocol. Yzerman said the Wings are encouraging “our players, our entire staff, to get the booster if they have not had it at this point.”

DeKeyser and Fabbri both have had the virus twice. DeKeyser said he was asymptomatic during the second time, which happened around Thanksgiving. When a vaccinated player does not have symptoms, Yzerman wondered why they are tested.

“At the end of the day — now I’m getting political — our players are testing positive with very little symptoms, if any symptoms at all,” Yzerman said. ” I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point. I think you might take it a step further and question why are we even testing, for guys that have no symptoms.”

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When the season began, vaccinated players were tested every three days. Now they are tested daily, the same as unvaccinated personnel.

“We take direction from the league and at this point, I’m not aware of any changes to the testing,” Yzerman said. “I’m not aware of any discussions as far as reducing testing or not testing.”

The Wings had a situation where Dylan Larkin was pulled from the Nov. 16 game at Dallas after his test result came back positive, but it turned out to be a false positive and he was back with the team Nov. 18.

“We’ve had false positives in the past, but it was due to their original tests being borderline, they redo it, and it’s below the threshold and come back negative,” Yzerman said. “Usually once the initial sample is positive, they run a second sample and it’s positive, they’re deemed positive.”

Once that happens, the individual is generally gone for 10 days — but Yzerman isn’t sure why.

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“There are a whole lot of questions that I don’t have the answer to, and then it seems to change with every single day,” he said. “This thing changes with every wave that we get — whether we’re better informed or the virus is different, I don’t know. But it’s changing constantly. So there’s a chance, I think, with some of the players that we could get the asymptomatic guys back earlier.”

The NHL is handling the situation on a day-by-day, team-by-team basis and talk of pausing the entire season is anathema to the overall picture. There already is a three-week shutdown in February for the Olympics carved into the schedule, which has pushed the end of the regular season to the end of April.

(Yzerman, himself an Olympic gold-medalist, said that in general he believes it is a “great thing” for NHL players to play at the Olympics, but understands there is apprehension given the possibility of having to quarantine in China for five weeks if a player tests positive during the games.)

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“I believe they’re going to act and make a decision based on what the right thing to do is for everyone involved, or the health of society in general,” Yzerman said. “I think they’re trying to be responsible and take the integrity of each game into account as well. The reality is we want to play these games , and you weigh off playing them now with a depleted roster versus packing them in towards the end of the schedule.”

While multiple games have been postponed and select teams have had to shut down through Dec. 26, the guiding principle is to play.

“The players, I think, ultimately want to play,” Yzerman said. “None of the players have come to us and said, hey, we should shut this down. Our players have been very positive in that, just tells 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. They’ve been willing to do them. They just want to play. Nobody wants anybody to get violently ill, or deathly ill — guys are willing to do their part. But right now, my perception is they will do what they have to do, they want to play and get through it.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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