Bill Daly expects 98% vaccination rate among NHL players by start of season

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18:  Assistant coach Luke Richardson of the Montreal Canadiens assumes head coaching responsibilities against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period in Game Three of the Stanley Cup Semifinals of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on June 18, 2021 in Montreal, Quebec. Head coach Dominique Ducharme (not pictured) tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Masks off? (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) (Minas Panagiotakis via Getty Images)

The NHL will be operating as (close to) safe as possible when the 2021-22 season — the league's first full campaign since COVID-19 changed everything — kicks off in a few weeks.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff that a whopping 98 percent of players are expected to be fully vaccinated to start the season, leaving a collection of only 10-15 players to be subject to the stringent rules put in place for those who turn down the double jab.

This is an incredibly strong number for the NHL, a league that generally seems to be dealing with less resistance when it comes to mass immunization.

Part of that has to be connected with the strong rules the NHL implemented earlier this month. The league outlined a long list of concessions unvaccinated players would have to accept in order to compete without the important safety measure, including daily testing and what amounts to their own personal quarantine on the road. More importantly, however, the league mandated a loss in pay for any unvaccinated player that misses time for COVID-19-related reasons, while vaccinated players who may test positive would have their absences considered a "hockey-related injury."

As part of the NHL's safety procedures, all employees that work in the same space as players, be it coaches, members of the training staffs or media personnel, must be fully vaccinated as well.

Of course, it feels only inevitable that there will be privacy issues at play here. Will the small number of players skipping the shot remain anonymous? Will that matter? Is this going to turn into some sort of witch hunt given how small the pool of players is that's choosing to remain unvaccinated, or will these individuals speak openly about the reasons why?

How COVID-19 impacts the day-to-day will remain a storyline in all sports regardless of vaccination rate, but thankfully in hockey it seems as though we might see it fade quickly into the background.

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