NHL Says It's Navigating Differing COVID Protocols Among U.S., Canada the 'Best We Can'

The National Hockey League said it's reviewing its COVID-19 protocols after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new recommendations. The NHL also said that it is navigating the differences in U.S. and Canadian rules the best that it can.

The NHL has had to do a balancing act between the stricter Canadian COVID-19 regulations and the looser U.S. regulations after it moved its season into Canada six months ago.

"We have always had the issue of differing rules in different jurisdictions, so it's not a new challenge," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press in an email.

"(We are) navigating choppy waters the best we can," Daly added.

The NHL decided to review COVID-19 protocols after the CDC recommended cutting quarantine time in half from 10 days to five. However, it doesn't seem like Canada is ready to adopt the looser regulations just yet.

Some hockey players expressed frustration with the NHL for not adopting the relaxed U.S. regulations that other sports agencies have adopted, especially in reducing the mandatory 10-day absence if someone has COVID-19 symptoms.

"It seems like it's always Canada that's the reason that a lot of things don't happen, so I don't know if we're going to be able to do that," said Alex Killorn, who plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"But it seems reasonable that we would do that and implement it as soon as possible," Killorn added.

NHL Reviewing COVID-19 Protocol
The NHL is reviewing its COVID-19 protocols after the CDC recommended cutting down the quarantine time period, but it doesn't look like Canada is ready to take a step in the same direction. Above, Adam Lowry (17) goes over the boards as his father, the interim Winnipeg Jets head coach, Dave Lowry, looks on in a game against the Washington Capitals on Friday, December 17, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. John Woods/The Canadian Press/AP Photo

Provinces in Canada clamped down on crowd sizes and imposed additional restrictions after an increase in COVID-19 cases.

"It's not in the mind of the state or the population and especially not in the mind of the health field workers," said University of Ottawa professor Gilles LeVasseur, who specializes in U.S.-Canada relations. "Right now it's more, 'Let's protect, let's secure and let's close in and let's do another confinement.'…There is not that mentality of saying that it's part of us, it's part of who we are and let's live with it."

Tampa Bay Lightning player Steven Stamkos on Monday said it was a fine line, while acknowledging discussion about testing less is happening around NHL locker rooms.

Veteran executive Lou Lamoriello said Sunday the league and union are doing the best they can without being able to control Canadian federal and provincial rules.

"Unless we weren't playing in Canada and we didn't have teams in Canada, you could consider (not testing asymptomatic vaccinated players), and certainly it would be (considered)," the New York Islanders general manager said. "But with the guidelines and rules of Canada, it's impossible to have happen. We wouldn't be able to have games without the testing that is required to play in Canada."

The NHL postponed the Detroit Red Wings' game at the Islanders scheduled for Wednesday, the 71st game to be rescheduled for virus-related reasons this season. More could be coming, especially in Canada in early 2022 to allow for fans in arenas in Montreal and Winnipeg, which is currently not possible because of provincial restrictions in both Quebec and Manitoba.

The American Hockey League, which has 26 teams in the U.S. and five in Canada, is wrestling with the same issues. While the NHL has postponed more than 70 games, the AHL is at 61 and is trying to play as many as possible without widespread disruption.

That comes with the acknowledgement that it's more difficult for the teams in Canada to avoid lengthy absences.

"You're always subject to what the Canadian government's going to do, and you respect that and our Canadian teams know that," AHL President and CEO Scott Howson told the AP on Tuesday. "Our protocols are always subject to whatever the Canadian government's saying, so if we do something that's less restrictive, but the Canadian government is obviously saying, 'Well, you have to do this,' then that's what the Canadian teams have to do."

One option is having different testing and isolation requirements for the U.S. and Canada.

"There's arguments on both sides," Howson said. "You want the level playing field, but for us, the 26 teams that could have a less restrictive system, why should they be punished?"

The NHL is testing players, coaches and staff daily through January 7 as part of enhanced virus protocols, which include a return to mask-wearing and restrictions for road teams. Taxi squads are back until the All-Star break to try to keep the season going.

As for Canada following the U.S. strategy of living with the virus, LeVasseur does not expect that shift for at least two more weeks while health officials monitor case and hospitalization numbers.

"If nothing turns out to be a catastrophe in the hospitals, then you'll have that second mentality," he said. "But until we get to January 15, nothing is going to be opening to that mentality. It'll be more closed in, secure, confinement and restrictions. That is the pattern that we're going to see."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

NHL COVID-19 Regulations
The NHL said it is navigating changes in COVID-19 policies between Canada and the United states the best that it can. Above, Winnipeg Jets fans cheer during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Sunday, December 19. Fred Greenslade/The Canadian Press/AP Photo