NHL removing glass, adding more social distancing efforts to combat COVID-19 spread

After a cluster of postponements this week, the NHL has mandated additional in-arena protocols to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

Beginning with Thursday's games, the glass will be removed behind the teams' benches. The belief is this measure will help increase airflow in arenas.

In addition, all meetings must be virtual, and teams are being asked to use additional locker room space for themselves and opponents to help enforce better social distancing. The league also is considering asking teams to use portable air cleaners behind the benches "to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission."

One protocol, which would have prohibited players and coaches from arriving at arenas more than one hour, 45 minutes before puck drop, was revised Thursday following emphatic protest from players.

Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp, who serves as the team's NHLPA representative, was critical of the new arrival restrictions.

"Really, really unhappy with that part of it," Copp told reporters. "Some of the protocols obviously in place, like virtual meetings, the spreading out guys in the room, I really understand that part. But not being allowed in the facility until an hour and 45 [minutes]? I mean, we got guys that show up here before 4 for 7 o'clock games. It's getting your mind right, it's getting your body right to put out the best possible product for the fans and trying to lower injury as much as possible. Really, really upset with that, and that will be fought for sure in the next few days."

St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube, on the other hand, said the team will follow the new rules because "that's our job."

"You may not like every decision that the league makes, but they're doing it for the safety of the players first and for trying to get a season done, trying to keep COVID down," Berube said.

There had been some concern raised by teams about the lag time between daily PCR testing and puck drop. The NBA also began its season with daily PCR testing but switched to rapid tests to get results before tipoff.

In an email, Daly told ESPN that the NHL already uses rapid testing "where deemed helpful or necessary."

"I would say we are committed to layering in more rapid testing as we go forward," Daly said.

Three teams -- the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Minnesota Wild -- had to temporarily shut down their seasons and postpone multiple games due to the NHL's COVID protocols.

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe and Minnesota forward Nico Sturm were added to league's protocol list on Thursday, bringing it to 40 players at the present time.

Since the season began Jan. 13, 22 games have been postponed and around 90 players have appeared on the league's COVID protocol-related absence list. A player's status on the list doesn't necessarily mean he tested positive for the coronavirus; often, a player can end up on the list if he is deemed a close contact or because of travel and quarantine restrictions.

"It is important to note that, while we have seen almost 100 players enter our COVID protocols, fewer than half have done so because of confirmed positive tests -- and, among that group, many have not been symptomatic," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Our priority has been and will continue to be to act conservatively with an abundance of caution, understanding that there are many things about the transmission of COVID-19 that are still being discovered.''