The NHL is out of its bubble and is now experiencing the same world that the other North American sports leagues live in. With teams closing training facilities in the NFL and the daily reports of who will be on the reserve/COVID-19 list — they had to rename the injured list for crying out loud — this is just another day in the life of a league that wants to keep active in the middle of a global pandemic.
We’re not far removed from the weeks of the St. Louis Cardinals seemingly playing several games in the same day because they had so many positive cases that ceased the team’s operations as the league around them kept on going. The same MLB that had a player with a positive case pulled in the final game of the World Series, to only reappear after the Los Angeles Dodgers won the whole damn thing, wielding just a simple medical mask like it was his pass into public acceptance.
Well unlike these two leagues freewheeling it across the nation without an ounce of care for who gets in their way, the NHL was placed in secure bubble to finish out their 2019-20 season. In both Toronto and Edmonton, hockey was still being played and there wasn’t one reported positive test throughout the several weeks of postseason action.
Now that the Stanley Cup has been awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the offseason festivities have come and gone, the league and its players are thrown into the familiar American sports world and its positive tests. In the late hours of Monday, the Vegas Golden Knights announced that at least four players have tested positive for COVID-19 while using the team’s facilities.
Adding context: should be noted that at minimum four VGK players have confirmed cases.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) November 24, 2020
Sources indicate the number may be higher; team confirmed only four positive tests today.
In addition, sources say multiple family members of VGK players have also tested positive. https://t.co/7CkDhY8Ikz
And to throw a gallon of gasoline on top of any concern whether the NHL can happen outside of a bubble, the Columbus Blue Jackets followed the Knights’ announcement with one of their own. Confirming that several players have tested positive but they still anticipate players returning to the team’s facilities next week, after the holiday closure.
Hearing a “significant” number of Columbus Blue Jackets players have tested positive for COVID-19 over the last 7-to-10 days.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) November 24, 2020
The team has confirmed only that “several” players have tested positive. Team facilities have been closed since last week.
Statement from #CBJ: pic.twitter.com/m4nUkyaxYu
These are the consequences of operating outside of an enclosed bubble, it seems. We’ve seen it already with the NFL and MLB that travelling around the country and even every team just using their own facilities like the world is normal, will easily create some positive cases.
The Blue Jackets and Golden Knights could be just victims of living in their own states though. Ohio is going through its biggest spike of new cases right now — more than tripling its daily positive tests compared to this time last month. And the state of Nevada has just been on an upward climb for the last two months as well. The entire country is experiencing more cases, so that might spread to the local hockey team.
To look at the sliver of a silver lining on this deadly cloud, the NHL appeared to be the most competent and forward-thinking league of the big four when the pandemic started. They tossed the notion of travel when the 2020 postseason still had to be played and the handled each concern carefully. Unlike the NFL, who just keep on trucking forward through the season no matter who ends up quarantined in the hospital, the NHL might take these recent positive cases more seriously.
It might be my dumb optimistic brain firing on all cylinders, looking for any hope in the middle of this time, but this thing might just work out. They’ve re-aligned the divisions, made sure that the border issue was solved early on, and limited travel so much that the Canadian teams might even play each other all the way into the postseason.
The NHL has a better track record than the NFL when it comes to caring for the safety of their players — although that’s not hard to beat — so there might be not the daily updates of players that have been sent to the Injured Reserve/COVID-19 that we find in the other league. But the virus is here now and they haven’t even started training camp yet.