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NHL Updates COVID-19 Protocols

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Feb/18/2021

With more than 40 games now postponed or canceled and nearly 250 player games lost to COVID-19 positive tests, the risk to the completion of the NHL season is becoming a real concern. Compare those numbers to the playoff bubble that was created for 24 teams at the end of the 2020 season that resulted in exactly zero positive tests.

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The NHL’s problems also stand in stark contrast to the NFL, which just completed its season without missing any of its 256 regular-season games. All of this has prompted the league to implement new COVID-19 protocols in the hopes of limiting future outbreaks and completing the season. Online bookmakers have the Las Vegas Golden Knights tied as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, with both paying +635. 

Benches Have Changed 

Football had the advantage of playing outdoors and with a huge sideline that allows players to spread out while not in the game. The NHL’s benches are compact, and there is glass behind the bench that restricts the free flow of air.

That glass is gone.

The NBA altered its bench setup from the beginning, but the NHL, with some restrictions in setup because of the boards and glass around the ice, was slower to make the change. 

Arena Arrival 

The biggest risk for the players is when they aren’t playing. So the league has mandated that no one is allowed to arrive at the arena prior to one hour and 45 minutes before game time. An exception will be made for players undergoing treatment for injuries, but everyone else must stay away. 

Again, this is all designed to limit the amount of stationary interaction between players and limit contact with anyone who might be positive. Teams can survive when one or two players test positive. But when contact tracing knocks out a half dozen players or more, the games become unplayable. 

Positive Players Protecting Negative Players 

It sounds a little unorthodox, but the NHL, at the direction of the league’s infectious disease experts, are sitting anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days and recovered next to anyone who has never tested positive.

The idea is medically sound in that a recently positive player will have antibodies that should keep him immune from COVID-19, at least in the short term. And that means he won’t give it to any of the players who have yet to test positive for COVID-19.

The positive player acts as a buffer and keeps the at-risk players further apart, increasing the likelihood that they will remain free from the virus and eligible to keep playing. 

Will There Be Another Postseason Bubble? 

Right now, there is flexibility in shuffling games around because of positive COVID-19 tests. But when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, accommodating teams won’t be so easy. So is the league considering another postseason bubble like the one from 2020?
 

Most players would say no. It was a full 65 days in the bubble for the teams that made the Stanley Cup Final last year. The league also doesn’t want to do it. But if things get significantly worse, don’t be surprised if it happens.

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