The NHL is nearing an implementation of what Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman spoke up about in December: Reduced testing for COVID-19.
Following the All-Star break, testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis for fully vaccinated personnel, barring cross-border travel regulations. The only exception is Tyler Bertuzzi, who has chosen not to get vaccinated and will continue to be tested daily.
The impending change was welcome news.
“You hope the disruption is less and less as the year goes along, both from a team aspect, a league aspect and for individual players,” coach Jeff Blashill said Tuesday. “We still have a number of individual players who haven’t yet tested positive, and so you’re worried about them. So it leaves you in a spot where there should be less disruption.”
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The Wings had to shut down ahead of the Christmas break as the ranks in COVID protocol swelled to include eight players, head coach Jeff Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay. Yzerman addressed the issue Dec. 18, one day before the Wings paused their season until Dec. 26.
“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.”
The league is adjusting its testing requirements in response to studies that show the COVID -19 omicron variant is highly transmissible but not as lethal as the delta variant that surged in the fall.
“It’s kind of gotten to the point where it appears, especially with this newest variant, hasn’t been as strong a response to it from people,” Blashill said. “So I think you start to adjust how you handle it. Everybody in the science world is learning on the fly with this and that’s just the reality of making decisions and I think it’s a good, strong decision by our group.”
Not testing asymptomatic players would have made a difference to the Wings on Nov. 16, for example. That’s when captain Dylan Larkin was pulled from the game at Dallas, and placed in quarantine. Further testing proved the original one was a false positive, but the fact is the Wings lost Larkin for the third period. Another example is defenseman Danny DeKeyser: He was placed in protocol around Thanksgiving, though he had no symptoms.
“It would have affected a lot of teams different,” Blashill said. “When people are in these decision making processes and you’re learning more and more about the different variants and it’s difficult. I talked to some people that were at the tail end of the delta variant that got it this year and they said they were out, it hurt them. It was hard.
“People have had to make decisions based on the information coming in, and I think as a league, we’re making a solid decision here not to test asymptomatic people. It would have affected going back, but we can’t go back.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.