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As NHL’s COVID cases mount, Lightning ask what more they can do

The team watches the numbers go up and postponements increase but believes it has done everything it can to stay healthy.
The Lightning have managed to dodge any COVID cases this season, and Steven Stamkos said Wednesday he feels the team has done everything possible to prevent the virus from infecting its locker room.
The Lightning have managed to dodge any COVID cases this season, and Steven Stamkos said Wednesday he feels the team has done everything possible to prevent the virus from infecting its locker room. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 16, 2021|Updated Dec. 16, 2021

TAMPA — The Lightning spent 56 days in a bubble during their first of two consecutive Stanley Cup title runs because of the coronavirus, and last season they didn’t hesitate to become a 100-percent vaccinated team.

Captain Steven Stamkos indicated Wednesday the Lightning have received booster shots, though the league has not mandated them.

So as coronavirus cases quickly mount throughout the league, forcing the postponement of more games and the potential of players not participating in February’s Winter Olympics, the Lightning are asking what more they need to do in order to get through the season.

From Monday morning to Tuesday evening, 30 players and staff members entered the league’s coronavirus protocols. On Wednesday, the Flames’ number of cases grew to 17 players, coaches and staff. The Predators had 12 players and staff on the protocol list Wednesday, including coach John Hynes.

The Lightning have managed to dodge any cases this season — three players landed on the protocol list last season, though Stamkos ended up with a false positive — and Stamkos said he feels the team has done everything possible to prevent the virus from infecting its locker room.

“It’s tough, right? Because we get vaccinated and you get boosters and you do all the things that you’re trying to do to keep everyone safe, and then you still have those outbreaks,” Stamkos said. “I think the good thing is the vaccines are working. I’ve talked to a lot of guys that have had (the virus) who are either completely asymptomatic or (have) very minor, flulike symptoms. So that’s a positive.

“It’s tough to see that, because we’ve tried to do everything that we can to keep things moving along here. So I don’t know where it ends, to be honest.”

With the number of coronavirus cases and game postponements climbing, the NHL is reintroducing enhanced protocols that include daily testing and restrictions in a bid to limit a growing outbreak among players and staff, reports said Wednesday.

The enhanced protocols will be put into effect immediately and last through at least Jan. 7, reports said.

The NHL players association scheduled a conference call with each of its 32 team representatives Wednesday night to go over the enhanced rules, including not leaving hotels on road trips. Daily testing will also return for players and coaches as part of the decision, which was reached after two days of meetings amid worsening conditions across the league.

Forward Alex Killorn, the Lightning’s player union representative, said stricter protocols will be “frustrating for everyone involved.”

“You don’t want to see teams lose games, you don’t want to see games postponed,” he said. “Just one of those things. We’re gonna have to figure it out.”

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In addition to daily testing, those protocols could include social distancing, mandatory face masks and virtual meetings, all of which enforced by the league last season.

“The mandate was to get everybody vaccinated for this reason,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “So I don’t know what extra step can be taken. I understand that it’s still a prevalent virus, but we’ve done everything we possibly can. There’s not much more you can do. So let’s see what happens.”

• • •

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