For two seasons, the NHL endured everything from pauses to restarts to bubbles while navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
As the 2021-22 season approached and the league and players' association once again negotiated player safety protocols, all parties involved saw vaccines as the easiest way to play the most normal season possible, even without a mandate. Thanks to NHL support and union-backed educational efforts, more than 99% of the league's players have been vaccinated by Tuesday's opening night, with "probably less than five" unvaccinated players (of approximately 700 total) on opening day rosters, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.
“It’s a pretty tremendous result, for sure,” Daly told USA TODAY Sports on Monday, the eve of games beginning.
Given the low number of unvaccinated individuals, Daly expects the number of fully vaccinated teams by the beginning of the season to reach "the high 20s, low 30s." (Coaches and staff are required to be vaccinated.) In the United States, 76.4% of those 12 or older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.