Number of Sharks players in NHL’s COVID protocol climbs by two

SAN JOSE – Sharks forwards Jonathan Dahlen and Tomas Hertl joined defenseman Brent Burns in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday and it is unclear if any of the players will be available for the team’s next scheduled game.

The Sharks also announced Tuesday that a team staff member had been placed in protocol.

The Sharks are scheduled to play the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 27 and right now there is no timeline for Hertl, Dahlen to Burns to return. Their availability for that game at the Honda Center and other games this month depends on future test results.

The NHL’s COVID protocol says fully vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic may continue to be tested daily during their period of isolation. If the individual has two or more consecutive negative tests, team doctors, in consultation with the club’s infectious disease expert, and if allowable under local health laws or regulations, may apply for an early exit from isolation.

Sharks coach Bob Boughner said Monday that Burns was asymptomatic, but it is not known how Dahlen and Hertl are feeling.

San Jose hosts the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 28 and the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 30. Hertl, Dahlen, and Burns have a combined 53 points this season.

Hertl and Dahlen, who both practiced Monday with the Sharks, had previously been on the league’s COVID-19 list.

Hertl, 28, tested positive last season and was away from the Sharks for two weeks, missing six games from Feb. 27 to March 8. Dahlen, who turned 24 on Monday, was one of seven players who missed the Sharks’ game on Oct. 30 against the Winnipeg Jets, but he was able to leave protocol after he subsequently produced two negative tests.

Earlier Tuesday, the Sharks canceled practice — their last before Christmas. The Sharks were scheduled to skate at their practice facility, but shortly before 10 a.m., the Sharks made the decision to call off the skate and send players and coaches home.

Boughner was originally slated to speak to reporters Tuesday morning but the team later canceled all virtual media availability.

Sharks players who spoke to this news organization earlier Tuesday said they were just waiting and hoping there were no more positive tests, as COVID has affected a large majority of NHL teams this month.

“Obviously, it’s frustrating. But that’s the way it is right now,” said Sharks winger Timo Meier, one of the Sharks players who were in the league’s COVID protocol in early November. “There’s a lot of cases. So we’ve just got to follow the rules from the league and hope guys don’t get too sick or have too many symptoms.

“For us, just kind of like waiting and then hoping everybody’s doing well and limit the cases. Obviously, we have some and hope that everybody else stays healthy.”

The NHL, in conjunction with the NHL Players’ Association, announced Monday night that it was starting its holiday break on Wednesday, two days earlier than scheduled. The Sharks and other teams will return to their facilities for testing and practice on Dec. 26, one day earlier than originally planned.

The NHL announced Sunday it would continue to play the 2021-2022 season, but it is unclear what would happen if the number of positive cases among players throughout the league continued to climb after the Christmas break.

“I’m not concerned about that,” Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said of the Sharks’ schedule after Christmas. “If they postpone more games, they do. The priority is to make sure the players, the coaches, the fans, everybody that has it can recover and not have any side effects.

“So playing hockey is secondary to making sure everybody’s alright.”

As of Tuesday morning, over 130 NHL players were in COVID protocol and 24 teams had at least one player who was unavailable. Fifty games had been postponed, including Sharks games this week against the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers. The NHL has not announced makeup dates for those games.

“I think people are just trying to figure out what the best course of action is,” Sharks goalie James Reimer said. “I don’t make those decisions, so, we’ll see what happens.”

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