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NHL’s new COVID-19 protocols could mean quicker returns for Flyers like Carter Hart and Sean Couturier

The modified protocols allow for players who are asymptomatic and produce a negative test to come out of isolation after five days rather than 10.

Sean Couturier could be back on the ice sooner than expected due to the NHL's modified COVID-19 protocols.
Sean Couturier could be back on the ice sooner than expected due to the NHL's modified COVID-19 protocols.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher’s hopes of getting players in COVID-19 protocols back sooner than expected became more likely Wednesday afternoon when the NHL adjusted its quarantine rules.

Two days after the CDC announced it was shortening the isolation period from 10 days to five, and just hours before the Flyers’ road game against the Seattle Kraken, the NHL modified its COVID-19 protocols for players who test or have already tested positive.

» READ MORE: Extended break a gift and a curse for Flyers

Just like the CDC’s guidelines, the new NHL protocols allow for players who are asymptomatic and produce a negative test to come out of isolation after five days. However, it requires those players to wear a mask around the team for another five days when not on the ice.

This new guidance will only apply if approved by local health officials. While the NBA and NFL have made similar adjustments to their procedures, the NHL has seven Canadian teams to work with. Unless the Canadian government makes exceptions, the new rule will only apply to teams based in the United States.

The Flyers have had nine players go into protocols in the 2021-22 season. Eight have tested positive in the last three weeks. There are currently five players — Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Carter Hart, Derick Brassard, and Scott Laughton — still going through their mandatory isolation period.

With this new rule, Couturier, who went into COVID-19 protocols on Dec. 21, could leave his quarantine immediately if he is asymptomatic and can produce a negative test. Ellis tested positive on Dec. 26 and would be able to leave on Friday under those conditions, although he is also injured. Hart, Brassard, and Laughton all tested positive on Dec. 27 and could return in the new year, in time for Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Flyers’ final game of a four-game West Coast road trip.

“Obviously could potentially be some good news for us, being that we do have some key players and some guys that are very important to our team playing real key roles for us that are out of the lineup right now, potentially getting them back quicker,” interim head coach Mike Yeo said.

However, that wasn’t his first reaction when he heard the news. While Yeo said he hasn’t had the opportunity to go through everything it entails, he said it wouldn’t affect the Flyers much over the next few games, which include a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday against the Kraken and the San Jose Sharks.

Since all of the Flyers’ tests came back negative Wednesday morning, Yeo planned to keep the lineups the same as they were at practice Tuesday.

Felix Sandström poised for NHL debut

On Dec. 18, Felix Sandström got the call-up every hockey player dreams of. With Hart, the Flyers’ starting goalie, out sick and backup Martin Jones taking over, Sandström was needed to back Jones up for the game against the Senators.

Two days later, Sandström was loaned back to the Phantoms without playing a second of game time. Hart tested negative, and while still under the weather, was set to back up Jones for the Washington Capitals game that ended up being postponed.

One week later, Hart tested positive, and Sandström was recalled again. This time, with Hart out for at least five days and back-to-back road games coming up, Sandström has a chance to play.

Sandström, who was given jersey No. 32, would make his NHL debut if he starts the second game of the back-to-back, against the Sharks.

Sandström said it’s been exciting to experience a packed Wells Fargo Center, see other parts of the country, and get to know the team. He’s making the most of every moment and trying to learn while he’s at it, and Yeo has liked what he’s seen.

“He looks confident, I can tell you that,” Yeo said. “I think goalies, they get to a certain point in their career where they just ... the game slows down for them a little bit. They’re more confident going out there against NHL players.”

Although the Flyers recalled him to the active roster Wednesday, Sandström knows there’s still a chance he won’t play.

“[I’ve] got to take the opportunity to practice as good as I can because you never know what might happen,” Sandstrom said. “You can’t know from afar what’s going to happen, but I’m ready if there’s a chance.”

While with the Phantoms, Sandström has posted a .896 save percentage across 15 games.


The Flyers play the Kraken at 10 p.m. in Climate Pledge Arena. It is their first time playing on the Kraken’s home ice, and they go into the game 1-0 against the expansion side. ... Joel Farabee got off to a fast start upon his return from injury, scoring in the two games before the extended break. He said it was nice to “give the legs a rest,” but after the time away, all the little details become more important. ... With Couturier out, Kevin Hayes will center the top line. Farabee said both he and Travis Konecny have played with Hayes before, and he thinks that chemistry may carry over.