When the NHL revealed its 2021-22 COVID Protocol yesterday, there were a number of exceptions written in. One such exception was that players with a medical or religious reason for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine would not be subject to the suspensions that other unvaccinated players would be. The protocol for staff was written much stricter, stating that anyone in direct contact with players or other hockey operations personnel had to be fully vaccination. However, it seemed reasonable that these medical and religious exceptions for players would also be considered for staff.
Well, that does not appear to be the case. The San Jose Sharks have announced that assistant coach Rocky Thompson will not return to the bench this season. The reason? A medical condition prevents him from receiving the COVID vaccination and the league has not extended any flexibility for that situation. In Thompson’s own words:
Due to a medical exemption that prevents me from taking the COVID-19 vaccine, under the new League protocols, I am not permitted to fulfill my duties on the Sharks coaching staff at this time. I will have no further comment on this matter.
While its fair for the NHL to do all they can to protect the integrity of the upcoming season as best they can with the threat of COVID still relevant, this may be a step too far. The league has outlined a number of strict conditions for unvaccinated players in terms of travel, testing, and more, yet were not willing to use those same policies to mitigate the risk of an unvaccinated assistant coach who has a legitimate medical cause.
The Sharks included in their release that they will be announcing a replacement for Thompson soon. As for Thompson, after just one season in San Jose he could be looking for work elsewhere, as there is no word as to whether Thompson will re-joining Bob Boughner’s staff after this season. 2020-21 had only been Thompson’s second season in the NHL, so the young coach still has plenty of contacts in the AHL and Canadian junior ranks that he could turn to this season and beyond.