Islanders add four players to NHL’s COVID-19 protocol

The Islanders added four players to COVID-19 protocol upon the team’s return to practice Sunday afternoon: Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom.

That makes it 15 players who have been in protocol since the start of the season, following an outbreak that sidelined eight in late November, and three more testing positive before the holiday break. The NHL extended its holiday break on either end to try and quell COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the league, but the Islanders now have more positive tests upon their return than they had going in.

Thanks to rule changes allowing for NHL teams to carry a taxi squad, similar to last season, the Islanders will get some relief. The team assigned forwards Cole Bardreau and Simon Holmstrom and defenseman Grant Hutton to its taxi squad.

Clockwise from top left, a composite image of Cal Clutterbuck, Anthony Beauvillier, Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom.
Getty Images; Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

More moves could be coming from the taxi squad. Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said Sunday that the team was waiting for its testing results from AHL Bridgeport, which has a COVID situation he described as “extensive.”

The Isles were far from the only team to suffer from positive tests upon returning to practice, but have been among the worst-affected by COVID-19 thus far this year. In the midst of an 11-game losing streak, they were forced to play with a severely undermanned roster. Now, though they’ll have Mathew Barzal, Matt Martin and Robin Salo out of protocol, they have lost four of their top 12 forwards.

The Islanders still practiced on Sunday, and there is no indication their game against the Red Wings on Wednesday will be affected. Detroit is dealing with its own COVID-19 situation, as Lucas Raymond and former Islander Nick Leddy entered protocol on Sunday.

“We’re approaching this certainly like any other game we approach that’s a regular-season game,” Lamoriello said. “And our coaching staff will get the team prepared as we normally would after the break.”

Wahlstrom, in particular, will be a gut-punch loss for an Islanders team that has severely lacked for scoring. The young winger had been finding his game before the break, earning a promotion to the top line and more playing time.

Beauvillier and Parise, too, had been finding their games after rough starts. Beauvillier followed up a benching with a handful of strong performances. Parise scored his first goal of the season on Dec. 11 against New Jersey.

As for Clutterbuck, his best game of the season in terms of scoring came just before the pause, as he netted two goals against Boston on Dec. 16.

Lamoriello praised the NHL’s handling of the situation, noting that changing the testing protocol is impossible because of restrictions imposed by the government in Canada. So while the NFL does away with testing asymptomatic vaccinated players, the NHL will have to continue on.

“Unless we weren’t playing in Canada, we didn’t have teams in Canada, you could consider that,” Lamoriello said. “But with the guidelines and rules in Canada, it’s impossible to have happen. We wouldn’t be able to have games without the testing that is required in Canada.”

After hosting the Oilers on New Year’s Day, the Islanders are scheduled to play in Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in the first week of 2022. Lamoriello said there are no plans for that to change.

Injured defenseman Ryan Pulock has started skating again, but there is no timetable on his return to practice.