Don’t expect the NHL to enforce a temporary hiatus on the 2020-21 season anytime soon.
Things are looking pretty bleak in the NHL right now when it comes to COVID-19 which, as predicted, is causing chaos with the shortened 56-game schedule and is leaving a trail of destruction, postponements and complications in its wake in a relentless fashion.
Just look at Tuesday when the Philadelphia Flyers had their game against the Washington Capitals postponed out of the blue after a couple of Flyers players entered the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol. That wasn’t all, either, as the league also postponed more games for the Buffalo Sabres, the New Jersey Devils and the Minnesota Wild with the total number of cancellations reaching 33 so far this season. And, the Vegas Golden Knights also cancelled their media availability after their win over the Anaheim Ducks last night due to COVID-19 protocols, just days after returning from an enforced hiatus by the way, so we will see what happens with that.
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We’re not even a month into the 2020-21 season yet but that number will only increase, leading to some calling for the NHL to hit the pause button on the year immediately and try to figure this out before resuming play. You can understand why given that it is utter chaos with the North Division – or the all-Canadian Division – the only one not impacted by all of these cancellations with the Central and the East in a state of flux right now. It is hard to see the likes of the Devils, the Sabres, the Wild, the Dallas Stars and the Carolina Hurricanes making up their schedule and playing all 56 games, bringing up the possibility of points percentage returning for a second consecutive year to decide who makes the postseason.
However, we’re here to tell you that it is almost certain that the National Hockey League won’t be bringing things to a temporary halt anytime soon, whether you like it or not and whether you agree or not. We all have our own opinions as to what they should do, but what they will do is another matter entirely and there is enough evidence out there, both within hockey and in other sports, that lays out a pretty clear path as to what will come next.
Like it or not, the NHL will unlikely bring the 2020-21 season to a temporary halt
For starters, the NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman knew exactly what they were getting into when it was decided that the 2020-21 season would be operated outside of a Bubble environment, unlike the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs where things ran smoothly. The league couldn’t really ask players to be away from their families for a whole season, though, so they were well aware that there were going to be positive tests and outbreaks along the way. That is just the price of doing business when it comes to running a major sports league in the thick of a pandemic.
Whether the NHL was expecting the early weeks of the season to be this fraught with complications and postponements is another matter entirely, but it is also important to remember that just because a player has entered the league’s COVID-19 Protocol, it doesn’t mean that they have tested positive for the virus, it could just mean that they have come in close contact with someone who has.
Anyway, the NHL would have studied Major League Baseball closely which had huge problems in the opening weeks of their season before they tightened things up and got a handle on things, marching through to the postseason and crowning a World Series Champion. The same applies to the NFL who had to deal with a team facility being closed on an almost weekly basis, but they leaned on their protocols and managed to complete a full regular season schedule and the Playoffs, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl this past Sunday.
Then there is the NBA who, like the NHL, played their 2019-20 postseason inside a Bubble but returned to arenas for the 2020-21 regular-season. And, like the NHL, the NBA understood the difficulties that lay ahead which is why Commissioner Adam Silver only released the first-half of the schedule in order to ensure there was a period where any postponed games could be made up. And the NBA was hit with a plethora of postponements too, especially in the first few weeks of their season.
As a result, the league introduced a swathe of new COVID-19 Protocols and measures, including limiting activities outside the team environment, facemasks in shortened meetings and a whole plethora of other measures in order to try and bring things under control. These were introduced in early December and, so far, they have appeared to work given that the NBA only had a handful of positive tests in the first couple of weeks of January, while they have only had one player test positive since with testing ramped up and tougher rules being put in place.
And that’s exactly where the NHL is heading. Per Darren Dreger of TSN, the NHL and the NHLPA are currently in discussions over enhanced protocols, which would include increased use of rapid testing on game days, regular testing of family or household members, reduced player interaction outside the workplace and updated mask requirements. The league has already tweaked some of its protocols in recent weeks, and expect new guidelines to be released shortly as they look to follow the lead of the NBA and hope that tighter and stricter guidelines will lead to less cases and, as a result, less postponements.
Look, those who say the NHL is probably past the point of no return make a solid argument given that Buffalo Sabres Head Coach Ralph Krueger has tested positive for COVID-19 after his team were somehow allowed to play the New Jersey Devils twice in two days just before a boatload of Devils players were placed in the league’s protocol, while Minnesota Wild prospect Marco Rossi is currently back home in Austria recovering from COVID-19 complications.
However, and again, the NHL constructed this season so that they could have a period of time between the regular-season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs to make up any lost games, and they were always going to battle through no matter how many outbreaks or players entered the Protocol. It is clear that they need, to at the very least, bring in tougher and much stricter guidelines, which they are in the process of doing, and it is likely that they are talking to NBA officials to get a sense of how they brought things under control after having to deal with a spate of postponements and even a player testing positive for COVID-19 while sat on the bench during a game. So, while you may feel that the 2020-21 NHL season should be paused or whether you thought that it shouldn’t have gone ahead in the first place, you are probably going to have to get used to the fact that the National Hockey League will continue to go full steam ahead and pausing the season will be the last resort. You may not like it but that is just a fact.