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Taxi Squads Return, Couture Supports Targeted Testing



Credit: NBC Sports California

Is the NFL the model for the NHL to finish its season?

The NFL, close to its playoff season and in its bid to reduce postponements because of the more contagious but perhaps less dangerous COVID-19 Omicron variant, has opted for targeted testing. Vaccinated players are not tested regularly — they’re tested if they report COVID-like symptoms, are unvaccinated, are a high-risk vaccinated contact, want to be tested, or via random sampling.

Essentially, players are being allowed to play with COVID — and spread it within their community. Asymptomatic carriers can transmit COVID, and while every NHL player except one is vaccinated, the same can’t be said for the rest of North America. COVID is still far more lethal for the unvaccinated.

The NHL, rocked recently by a wave of postponements and the official withdrawal from the upcoming Winter Olympics, is searching for answers with more than half their season left. At the moment, all players, vaccinated or not, are tested on a daily basis.

So will targeted testing be coming to the NHL soon?

That’s what the San Jose Sharks‘ Logan Couture is hoping for.

“My opinion would be yes [for targeted testing], but I think the Canadian government has last call on that. As far as I know, they’re the ones that hold the power with teams crossing the border and all that,” Couture said today.

This is in line with what Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman expressed recently.

“At the end of the day our players are testing positive with very little symptoms if any symptoms at all. I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point,” Yzerman said last weekend. “The players, I think, ultimately want to play.”

In terms of symptoms, or the lack thereof, that is apparently the case with the San Jose Sharks in COVID protocol, Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, Jonathan Dahlen, and Jasper Weatherby.

“They’re doing really well,” Couture shared. “I talked to Burnzie, four days ago before Christmas, and he said he was fine. Tommy said he wouldn’t even know [he had COVID], he just feels normal. Dahls is doing good too.”

Burns, in COVID protocol since Dec. 17, should return for the San Jose Sharks’ return to play on Dec. 28 against the Arizona Coyotes. Hertl, Dahlen, and Weatherby are not as likely to be out of protocol by then.

In the big picture, that’s just four Sharks, but a number of NHL’ers support Yzerman’s stance.

Connor Hellebuyck called the wave of NHL postponements “overkill,” saying on Tuesday: “You see leagues like the NFL, who are adapting and, I think, doing things right.”

Ultimately though, as Couture noted, the NHL is at the mercy of the Canadian government. The league has seven franchises in Canada, and therefore, a host of other local, more stringent municipalities to contend with than say the NFL.

“Multiple things can be true. Yeah, you might not get that sick. But look around you: [Localities] are still treating this as a significant public health threat, because it is,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and scientist who consults the NHLPA, told ESPN. “We’ve got a variant now that we’ve only learned existed. And in a month, it represents 70% of the cases in the United States and in various Canadian settings. We have hospitals that are filling up.

“The players and these leagues are still bound by the rules of the states and provinces and countries that you work in. And I think that gets lost in these conversations.”

So like it or not, it doesn’t seem like targeted testing is coming to the NHL any time soon. Instead, the league announced today that they’re going to try to make do with a revised CBA and the return of last year’s protocols, including taxi squads.

Quoting Puckpedia, these are the key tenets of the revised CBA:

-Teams will be permitted to have players on a taxi squad from now through the All Star Break

-Players on a taxi squad count for cap purposes exactly as though they were in the AHL. This means that if a player has a cap hit of less than $1.125M (the burying threshold) and they are on the taxi squad, they do not count against the cap. If they have a cap hit greater than $1.125M and are on the taxi squad, their taxi squad cap hit will be their cap hit minus $1.125M

-6 players maximum can be on the taxi squad, with no minimum

-Players can only be on the taxi squad for 20 cumulative days

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner noted today that Nick Merkley and Scott Reedy would be practicing with the big club tomorrow. This comes on the heels of Jayden Halbgewachs and Jeffrey Viel being called up earlier today.

He also said that the plan is to carry an extra goalie on the upcoming New Year’s road trip through the Northeast.

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