Hurricanes, with season on hold due to COVID-19, try to navigate NHL’s protocol

A shot from Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jordan Martinook (48) misses the net past Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (35) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

The NHL paused the Carolina Hurricanes’ season Tuesday after four players joined team captain Jordan Staal in the league’s COVID-19 protocol.

On Thursday, general manager Don Waddell and coach Rod Brind’Amour met with the media via Zoom to offer an update after three games — Tuesday’s in Nashville and Carolina’s first two upcoming home games on Thursday and Saturday against Florida — were postponed due to positive tests on the team.

“There’s so much unknown and you always want to, I think, err on the side of caution,” Brind’Amour said. “I think we’ve done all the protocols. We’ve tried. I think we’ve done a great job. Obviously, it didn’t matter. You know, it got into our room.

“So I think we’re just trying the best we can to follow everything that people that know what they’re talking about (are) telling us. We’re listening. … I think we’ve done the best we can.”

Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen were all added to the COVID protocol Tuesday, and Brind’Amour said all four stayed behind in Nashville in their hotel rooms as part of their quarantine, per league rules.

“We got guys sitting in Nashville right now in a hotel room; they can’t leave the room,” Brind’Amour said. “You know, it’s brutal. I feel for these guys.”

Staal played in the Hurricanes’ season opener but missed their second and third game after being placed in the protocol. He is still listed as being on the league’s list.

The NHL does not release which players have tested positive, only that they are in the protocol. Other reasons for being placed in the protocol include contact tracing, COVID-like symptoms and an unconfirmed positive test.

Teravainen played sparingly in the final two periods of Monday’s win in Detroit, and Brind’Amour said after the game that the winger “tweaked something,” which is why he played just 9:08 for the game. When Teravainen showed up as one of the players on the COVID list, it raised speculation that he was suffering from symptoms during the game yet remained on the bench and played on the power play.

Brind’Amour said Thursday that Teravainen was limited because of injury, not COVID symptoms.

“I think that was just an in-game thing that he didn’t feel good about,” Brind’Amour said. “And when you’re playing so many games — or at least you’re preparing like you’re going to play so many games — you just don’t want to push guys through stuff that could really take them out for a long time.”

Before the Hurricanes can worry about the early-season bumps and bruises, Carolina must shake off its COVID issues if the team is going to resume practicing and playing. The Hurricanes’ facilities are currently closed due to the outbreak, meaning the team can not practice or work out together.

“Today we had practice, but it was practice on Zoom,” Brind’Amour said. “We got that done, and now they’ve got to figure a way to stay in shape on their own. (Strength coach) Bill Burniston has been out traveling around dropping bikes off. We’re making the best of this situation.”

Waddell is hopeful the team can reopen to the players in the coming days, and the Hurricanes and the league are in contact daily about how to proceed.

“I envision it being closed for the next day or so,” Waddell said. “But we’re hoping that by the time we get here toward the weekend, we can start doing some things. Maybe it won’t be a full team, but start doing some things and ramping back up to full practice, and then get ready to play next week.”

Currently, the Hurricanes are next scheduled to play Tuesday at home against Tampa Bay Lightning. The NHL’s protocol calls for varying steps to be taken for players to become eligible to return to practice and for games, depending on why they have been placed on the list.

The Washington Capitals were fined $100,000 by the league after four players, including captain Alexander Ovechkin, were placed in the COVID protocol and found to have violated league rules for congregating together in a hotel room. The Capitals have not yet had any games postponed.

Waddell said the Hurricanes had followed league rules and “spared no expense” in trying to prevent an outbreak.

“We think we’ve done everything we possibly can do, and you just can’t control it,” Waddell said. “We see what’s going on in our country, in our world. Sometimes you just can’t control it. So now we’ve got to try to figure out how to get it out of the locker room and continue to look at avenues to make sure we keep the environment safe for our players.”

Once that happens, the NHL and the Hurricanes will have to work to reschedule at least three games — or more, if necessary — into an already crowded schedule. While finding time to host games at PNC Arena won’t be a problem — no other events, aside from NC State’s men’s basketball, are being held there — Waddell said the team might have to play five games in seven nights to catch up and keep the league on course for its targeted end of the regular season on May 8.

The possibility of playing three games in three nights isn’t off the table — the Red Wings did so near the end of the 2016-17 season after their December game with Hurricanes was postponed because of a compressor issue at PNC Arena — but both the NHL and the Hurricanes view that as a last resort.

“I think it’s the league’s strong opinion, and I think most teams would agree, that three-in-three puts your players at risk for more injuries,” Waddell said. “It’s a lot of wear and tear on your body. … Right now, we’re avoiding it, and I think the league’s going to do everything it can to avoid it.”

Avoiding the ongoing pandemic has proven to be not as simple.