NHL's new COVID-19 protocols ramp up restrictions, penalties for unvaccinated players, memo says

The NHL informed teams of its 2021-22 health and safety protocols Thursday, and they feature significant restrictions for unvaccinated players.

On the road, unvaccinated players will not be able to go anywhere except for the team hotel, practice facility and arena, according to a 27-page document outlining the protocols, which was obtained by ESPN. At the team hotel, unvaccinated players can't use the bar, restaurant, gym or pool and cannot have teammates or visitors in their rooms.

Unvaccinated players are prohibited from carpooling or using saunas. They are encouraged not to eat and drink on flights, attend bars or clubs or eat indoors -- even at home -- with people outside their households or personal bubbles.

Teams can suspend unvaccinated players who are "unable to participate in club activities," according to the memo, whether it's due to a positive case or the inability to travel due to governmental restrictions. Unvaccinated players will surrender one day's pay for each day they miss, although the league will make exceptions for players with valid religious reasons or medical excuses. The league also won't suspend an unvaccinated player if it's determined the case "[arose] out of the course of employment as a hockey player."

Unvaccinated players will need to quarantine for seven days before training camp. Throughout the season they will be subject to daily testing, as opposed to testing at least every third day for vaccinated players.

Sources have told ESPN that "an overwhelming majority" of NHL players are vaccinated.

For the second year in a row, players are asked not to participate in community events such as speaking engagements, charity events, autograph sessions or even fist-bumping fans.

The NHL and NHLPA are finalizing an agreement with the IOC and IIHF for 2022 Beijing Olympics participation, which should be announced in the coming days. As part of that agreement, all NHL players who participate in the Olympics will need to be vaccinated, sources told ESPN.

That agreement will also feature an opt-out clause for the NHL and NHLPA to pull out of the Olympics, should COVID-19 conditions worsen.

The NHL is looking to return to a normal cadence and 82-game schedule this season, with the puck dropping for opening night on Oct. 12. In the memo to teams, the NHL said it also plans to allow vaccinated and masked media members back into the locker room. The league also says that any person whose job or access requires them to be within 12 feet of players must be vaccinated.

The protocols also offer certain protections for vaccinated players. For example, if a player who is vaccinated contracts COVID-19, it "shall be treated as a hockey-related injury for all purposes."

The NHL is offering players to opt out of the season due to personal health concerns for themselves or a family member, but the deadline to notify teams is Oct. 1. Players who opt out will not be allowed to play in any other hockey league, or at the Olympics.