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What should the NHL do about unvaccinated players?

Montreal Canadiens v Winnipeg Jets - Game Two Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

There are a handful of NHLers who have refused to be vaccinated for whatever reason. Most of these players are on American teams which is a good thing as you cannot enter Canada unless you are vaccinated at the moment. One player who came over not vaccinated, Jesse Ylonen of the Montreal Canadiens, is in the process of becoming fully vaccinated at the behest of the Habs.

So what should be done with the unvaccinated few? Honestly, at this point what the NHL and NHLPA have agreed to is probably enough. They lose out on salary for games they cannot attend (that are not tied to an injury or illness) and are not paid when they are sick with COVID if they get it. It’s actually a fairly thorough and simple way to strongly, strongly encourage players and personnel to get vaccinated.

There also has to be a difference between those who are vaccine hesitant and those who are anti-vaxx. Connor Hellebuyck came across as vaccine hesitant because he had read that you were supposed to wait a certain amount of time before getting vaccinated after having COVID (which he had) and he had concerns about getting vaccinated when he has no spleen. Both of these are legitimate reasons to go talk to a doctor before getting vaccinated which he did and he came to camp fully vaccinated.

People who come across as anti-vaxx are a whole other issue and deserve to be handled differently and yet the same at once. They deserve to have different rules based on their vaccine status especially since the NHLPA has agreed to those rules. The fact that the NHL has a high uptake with vaccines without a mandate and with a fairly right-wing base should tell you all you need to know about how effective their rules are.

I work under what was reported as a vaccine mandate, but it is not. The school divisions in Manitoba entered negotiations with their unions to encourage vaccine uptake and settled on a testing mandate with a vaccine exemption. You can work without a vaccine, but you have to get tested three times a week on your own time. If you refuse to do that, you can sit at home and not get paid. That is a union negotiated mandate and it worked. Vaccination uptake is high in most places because it is way better to have two needles in your arm than to get your brain tickled three times a week.

The NHL has a handful of players who are currently not vaccinated for their own personal reasons. They might end up getting vaccinated because they will lose out on money if they cannot play in every game and have to quarantine for two weeks whenever they enter Canada. Unless there is an actual medical reason for someone to not be vaccinated, unvaccinated players are being reckless with their own health as well as the health of those around them.

Manitoba has a small list of reasons why someone might not have two doses of the vaccine and have a system that they have to go through including seeing an allergist at Health Sciences Centre part of their requirement to give a medical exemption. There are legitimate reasons for someone to not have two doses, but there are also legitimate means for this to be determined. As far as we know there are no NHL players that fall under this umbrella. If there were, I would hope that the NHL would honour the system in place for their exemption.

The NHL is looking at so many forms of money at stake here. They have teams requiring patrons be full vaccinated, that staff be fully vaccinated, and they have one team who fired an assistant coach because he refused to be vaccinated. Manitoba is requiring vaccines for those eligible when attending games. Other teams are in the same boat. Because if you have 20/20 people vaccinated in a room, you are less likely to have anyone get sick. If you have 1 person who was advised to not get the second dose for whatever reason, the odds are still in your favour.

It would not be surprising if the NHL maintained its COVID policies forever. The policies around mask wearing in certain setting and vaccines are not intrusive same as masks. In the end it is a small thing that can help save lives and keep you healthy long-term. The NHL’s policy was agreed to with the NHLPA via a negotiation and had the players’ best interests at heart, even if some disagree with it. And at the end of the day, no one cares if your reason for getting vaccinated was because you wanted to go see the Winnipeg Jets play hockey or your league all but requires them for you to be a full participant in the season because the joke is on you now: you’re fully vaccinated and that is all anyone really wanted from you.