Detroit — The NHL will begin reduced testing for COVID-19 after the All-Star break, something many in the league — especially players — have been pushing toward.
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill is all for the change.
“It’s kind of gotten to the point where it appears, especially with this newest variant, it hasn’t been as strong a response to it from people,” Blashill said. “So 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 it’s a good, strong decision by our group.”
After the All-Star Game weekend, beginning on Feb. 7, vaccinated players who are asymptomatic will not go through daily testing, other than cross-border travel regulations into Canada.
The NHL is joining the NBA and NFL in not testing asymptomatic players, something NHL players have been increasingly vocal about. Many players reported few, and mostly mild, symptoms after contracting omicron variant in late December.
The one exception to the new regulations on the Wings is forward Tyler Bertuzzi, who has chosen to be unvaccinated. Bertuzzi will continue to be tested daily.
The Wings were one of many teams around the NHL who’ve had their seasons affected because of the omicron variant. The virus worked its way through the Wings’ dressing room so much, the Wings needed to pause their season Dec. 19 for a week. The NHL paused its season three days later, opening its annual holiday break two days earlier than scheduled.
The Wings have five games to be rescheduled (with the new dates expected to be announced Wednesday). A total of 104 games have been postponed around the NHL. A majority of those games are likely to be made up in February, as the NHL has a three-week window open because the NHL and its players decided to forgo participating in the Winter Olympics.
Along with the Wings, teams such as the New York Islanders, Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, Colorado and Montreal have been hit hard by the variant, causing massive disruptions.
Had these new regulations been in place, it’s likely the lineup disruptions wouldn’t have been as prevalent.
“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, 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 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.”
According to the website DailyFaceoff, 73% of the league’s rosters have tested positive this season. A staggering 60% have tested positive in the last five weeks.
But those players don’t need to be tested now for the next three months. Given that, and the new testing regulations, the NHL is extremely hopeful of completing a full, 82-game season and heading into the playoffs in late April/early May.
“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,” Blashill said. “We still have a number of individual players who haven’t yet tested positive, and so you’re worried about them. But it leaves you in a spot where there should be less disruption.”
Dylan Larkin didn’t practice Tuesday, with Blashill calling it a maintenance day. The Wings don’t play again until Friday.
… Rookie forward Lucas Raymond was not selected as the Atlantic Division’s Last Man In by fans for the All-Star Game. Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos was voted in, though Raymond was just as deserving as any player nominated.
“He’s done a good job,” Blashill said. “I don’t know what exactly an all-star is. He’s certainly played well enough to be in that consideration with the other good players in the league.”
… Forward Vladislav Namestnikov can be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and enjoying a fine season with 11 goals, he could be a rental many teams would be interested in acquiring if the Wings decide to sell at the trade deadline.
But Namestnikov wouldn’t mind working out an extension and remaining with the Wings. Namestnikov grew up in the area, his uncle Slava Kozlov starred with the Wings, and he’s put down roots here.
“I love it here, I love the guys in the room, so it’s a special place for sure,” Namestnikov said. “I grew up here and I love everything about it. It would be great to stay, for sure.”