The NHL announced on Wednesday that it had fined the Capitals $100,000 for violating the league’s COVID‑19 protocols. The issue involved social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings, according to a short statement.
Soon after, the team had four members — Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Samsonov — on the NHL’s list of players unavailable to practice or play.
Wednesday night, the team released statements further explaining which rules were broken.
“I regret my choice to spend time together with my teammates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas. I will learn from this experience,” said the statement from Ovechkin, the Capitals’ captain and star forward.
The team added a note of its own: “Our training staff has worked extremely hard to create a safe environment for our players and staff to be able to compete this season. We are disappointed by our players’ choice to interact in their hotel room and outside of team approved areas. We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 Protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward.”
On Thursday, head coach Peter Laviolette would not confirm whether there was a positive test among the group. The Washington Post’s Sam Pell reported that Ilya Samsonov did test positive. The four players are now in a mandated seven-day quarantine per Washington, D.C., law and will miss at least four games.
“Those are four big pieces for us, and important pieces, so they’ll be missed,” Laviolette told reporters. “We totally understand why the rules are in place and there’s no arguing with that. We want to be compliant. We made a mistake, and we need to do a better job.”
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Before the start of the season, the NHL published multiple comprehensive protocol books outlining what was and what was not acceptable conduct during the season. While it included information regarding players wearing face coverings and maintaining at least six feet of distancing, it also included a section on club travel protocol. As part of that protocol, it clearly states: No individual shall permit guests or other personnel in their room (with the exception of housekeeping or engineering staff, as needed, which services shall be provided while individuals are not present in the room).
“We knew the rules,” Laviolette said when pressed. “We’re not sitting here saying that we were uninformed or we weren’t aware. We need to do a better job. The players, I think, being on their first road trip and being inside of the hotel for that long a time and wanting to be near each other, I get it. But at the end of the day, it is about staying safe and those were the messages that we passed along to the players.”
Thursday, Ovechkin’s wife Nastya blasted the NHL’s rules on Instagram, while also adding that her husband and Orlov already have antibodies.
“Of course, you can’t catch the virus when you and your teammates sit together on the bench, hug each other when they score a goal, or when they are all together in the lounge or locker room,” part of her post read. “Players can’t get infected when they are at the restaurants, supermarkets, malls, etc.. [sic]. Virus only works in a hotel room. The one who came up with this rule, obviously is very logical!”
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The Capitals were off Wednesday (it was a previously scheduled off day) after playing Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. They are not scheduled to play again until Friday when they host the Sabres in the home opener to begin a six-game homestand.
The news comes a day after the Hurricanes-Predators game was postponed as four Canes players joined Jordan Staal on the team’s COVID protocol-related absences list. On Wednesday, Carolina’s games through Saturday, Jan. 23 were postponed. The Stars had their first four games postponed after 17 payers tested positive during training camp.