With exhibition NHL games schedule to begin next Tuesday, the NHL is hoping that COVID-19 doesn’t play havoc with its postseason plans. Toronto and Edmonton have been selected as host cities which will have a bubble set up to contain player’s chances of catching and spreading the COVID-19 virus. There will be no fans in attendance and needless to say this NHL postseason will be unlike any others.
NHL Postseason Threatened by COVID-19
On a media call to discuss the hub cities, Gary Bettman calls this one of the most unique and challenging endeavors any of us have ever been involved with.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) July 24, 2020
Let’s get something clear right up front. The NHL is doing all it can to protect players and their families from contracting the feared pandemic. Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, the NHL’s chief medical officer doesn’t deny that that will be positive tests with 24 teams each having a 52-person party attending games. The NHL reported just two positive tests for COVID-19 with over 800 players tested over the first five days of training camp. There were also 30 players who tested positive during voluntary workouts at team facilities from June 8th to July 12th. Another 13 cases were revealed outside the official protocol.
So, to emphasize the threat of players who will be in contact with each other on the benches and on the ice, as long as instructions are followed good results will be achieved. But let’s face it, hockey players are social creatures just like anyone else. If a handful of players decide to break the rules, all hell could break loose.
The Virus Threat
Even with the testing of players every other day, the way this virus has spread it potentially could ruin the NHL’s grand postseason event. Say a key player tests positive, he will need to have contact tracing done to see who he was around to narrow down who he may have infected. No system is foolproof.
It can be expected that along with players possibly getting injured during the intense playoff environment, they could be held out if testing positive for the 14-day quarantine period. Every person contracting the infection has different immune defence capabilities. One player may be asymptomatic and not show any symptoms of the virus. Yet he can easily can pass it on to another player, coach, trainer, who is with the team. Losing a star player due to quarantine will completely change the complexity of the playoffs. Not to mention how it could cripple a team with more than one positive test.
Fighting Will be Allowed
We all know that even though fighting has decreased significantly in the NHL, it still exists. Players will have their hands covered with gloves. Their faces may be covered with face shields for the most part. But when a fight starts they will lose that protective gear. Players will be in close proximity of each other, wrestling and getting into each other’s faces. If one player has the virus under those conditions the chances of spreading it are increased to an extreme.
There was talk of banning fighting for the NHL postseason in this pandemic filled world, but it will be allowed. Even officials who get into the fray and attempt to break up a fight could potentially be at risk of contracting the virus. So far the officials have not had one positive test, which is good news.
Stephen Walkom said all the officials’ COVID-19 tests were negative.
— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) July 24, 2020
NHL Attempting to Still Entertain Fans
The NHL is doing all it can to make the fan experience all it can be. Considering that fans will only be able to watch games on TV, that is a huge chore. With empty arenas, there will be camera angles added to give the NHL fan a feeling like they are there in person. They also expect to use teams’ goal horns and hometown chants to add to the experience.
For some fans that will help them adjust to not being there in person. Everyone who normally has attended games will be disappointed. Hometown announcers will set up in their normal arenas where equipment is readily available to bring the game broadcast into every fan’s living room.
There’s not much else the league can do to finish the 2019-20 interrupted season. Hopefully the financial losses each franchise has sustained can be recouped in some fashion.
More importantly, every fan’s enthusiasm to see their favorite team play in the postseason must be shadowed by the hope that all involved do not contract the virus.
We all need a distraction from the sad news of deaths and financial ruin that COVID-19 has caused. Perhaps watching NHL playoff games will provide some joy we’ve all lost of late.