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NHL’s Playoff Return: Safe or Foolish?

NHL Hockey returns in Canada on August 1st

Lemieux Lifts the Cup by Michael Miller is licensed under CC BY SA-4.0

NHL’s Playoff Return: Safe or Foolish?

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In 24 cities, NHL players returned to training camp on July 13th to prepare the NHL return to playoffs. The return is scheduled for August 1st. Here’s a refresher on everything so far:

The NHL announced its “Return-to-Play” plan in late May, and it was ratified officially by the NHLPA along with a collective bargaining agreement just recently. The plan includes a four phase system to ultimately arrive at a 24 team playoff bracket based on the standings from time of pause. The league is currently in “phase 2” of that plan, which is non-contact, voluntary training for the teams in the playoffs. July 13th is the start date for “phase 3”: the opening of training camps. August 1st is slated to be the beginning of the actual playoffs, or “phase 4.”

So what precautions are the NHL taking to protect the players and staff?

The short answer is a lot. Each conference will quarantine in a hub city for the duration of the playoff bracket. The Western conference is quarantining in Edmonton and the Eastern conference in Toronto. Each team is only allowed to bring 50 total personnel. After arriving in the hub city, every single team must remain quarantined, only interacting with each other for five days. All transportation, hotels and facilities are secured from anyone outside the tournament. Teams are currently scheduled to arrive in their hub cities on July 26th.

Every player, coach or staffer will receive a COVID-19 test every single day and the results are returned within 24 hours. No negative test result, including a delay in results, means the player can’t play. A positive test results in immediate self isolation. Different types of symptoms will determine the length of that isolation but no player sets foot on the ice until he is symptom free for 72 hours. The NHL stated that it is working with testing facilities in the cities to ensure a smooth testing structure while there. This should hopefully avoid the problems the MLB has been running into with testing for their season.

The biggest adjustment is that the NHL is not playing in any US city.

While the players are still in their home cities now, the US arenas will remain quiet while the energy rages in Canada. Until recently, the NHL’s shortlist of cities included more than a few US cities. However, everyone knows that the past few weeks have contained dramatic change in COVID-19 for the American cities. The spiking US cases forced the NHL to reconsider and push the entire playoff tournament above the border.

Samantha Pell of the Washington Post shared this quote in her article this week: “I don’t know what greater indictment you need of the United States’ response to the virus than the NHL picking up its puck and retreating to Canada,” said Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College of Emory University.” When the majority of the league plays in the US, it’s hard to ignore the reality of that statement. However, the hope seems to be to get them to Canada healthy from the US and hope the rest works.

Even with all of this, some players have opted out. Either for family reasons or personal health pre-existing conditions, a couple of teams are reporting certain missing players, especially as numbers climb. Max Domi is notably still unconfirmed for the Montreal Canadians. He is a Type 1 diabetic. And already thin ranks could continue to shrink throughout due to positive tests, injuries or otherwise. The NHL recently shared that there will not be news updates on COVID-19 test results or IR during the tournament to protect privacy and avoid confusion.

Will this work?

There are certainly risks. Personnel could get sick. The schedule could collapse as infections happen. That said, most experts seem to agree that the NHL right now has the best plan for safely resuming play. The rapid and frequent testing is aggressive and preventative. Some players began quarantining and retraining at home long before training started. There have been bumps in the road for soccer returning on various stages and the MLB is struggling to get infrastructure together to guarantee a return. The NHL has firmly said that a single positive test won’t shut down the playoffs. However, an outbreak could. And there won’t be a road map for that yet.

We can’t predict the future. After a year like 2020, we shouldn’t try. But, maybe this will work. Maybe we will get a little more hockey. ‘Cause after all, “every day is a great day for hockey.”

Sarah Jane, Sarah, or SJ-depending on the source-is a director, educator, theatre artist and now, sports blogger. She lives in Queens with her darling, not-so-sports-fan boyfriend. She played ice hockey growing up for the NJ Quarry Cats and various other teams. Being team captain her last two seasons is the most important achievement of her life to date. She proudly also was about a quarter of the size of her opponents and often led her team in both penalty minutes and enthusiasm. She's a Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers fan (thanks, Momma!) and a New York Yankees fan (thanks, Poppa?) and was given zero choice on all three of these teams. Other hobbies include reading non-fiction books, cooking, and being spunky. Check in with her for all your greater hockey needs!

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