It took a handful of teams having games postponed due to some rampant outbreaks for the NHL to step in and realize that they can improve the protocols that they have in place.
According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, the NHL is making four major changes surrounding each individual game for the rest of the season. One major (and noticeable) change will be the removal of glass behind the bench, to improve air flow through that area—to improve it further, the league will also be installing portable air cleaners equipped with HEPA filters that results “in reductions of 50 per cent or higher in particulate matter.”
Another change that no fan will really notice at all, is that players and coaches are no longer allowed to be inside the arena more than 1 hour and 45 minutes before puck drop—unless injury treatment is needed—and all other meetings will be conducted virtually from now on. In addition to that, there will be greater social distancing within the locker rooms, with the typical six-foot minimum in mind—portable stalls for players to get dressed in, might even be considered. Teams will have one week to report to the league how they will achieve this.
At first glance, it looks like the NHL is finally understanding how drastic a situation they are currently in. Over 90 different players (as of Wednesday night) have now appeared on the league’s COVID protocol list through the first three weeks of the season and with that the Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, Vegas Golden Knights and New Jersey Devils have had to postpone games. I might even be forgetting some teams honestly, because it has just been a blur of cancellations and trying to reconfigure what this regular season is going to look like.
When one team has 17(!) players on the league’s protocol list with either positive COVID tests or increased exposure to the virus, it’s honestly time to question whether it’s even worth it.games
The #NJDevils up to 17 players on COVID Protocol list: N. Bastian, J. Bratt, C. Carrick, A. Dell, N. Gusev, J. Hughes; A. Johnsson, J. Kuokkanen, M. McLeod, K. Palmieri, D. Severson, Y. Sharangovich, Ty Smith, M. Tennyson, S. Vatanen, P. Zacha and T. Zajac— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 3, 2021
The massive influx of Devils comes after they already played a game against the Sabres with five players on the protocol list. Resulting in Buffalo skaters Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen having to be placed on the list themselves, all because the people in charge decided to carry on with the match despite the increasingly dangerous situation.
This is the same league that padded itself on the back so hard about no positive tests within their postseason bubbles last summer, that you could essentially see their handprint coming out the other side, through their metaphorical chest. Now they’re stuck in the rest of them—joining the NFL, NBA, and MLB as leagues that have not been able to handle this virus with enough efficiency to not affect lives.
The Wild’s very own top prospect Marco Rossi had to declare that he will not be playing professional hockey for the entire season, due to lasting effects from COVID; he tested positive in late November while playing in Switzerland and is still suffering the repercussions from some mishandling of proper procedure.
We will not know the long-term effects until they slap us in the face with an announcement that a player has to retire early, losing out on income and opportunities just simply because of a league’s rush into wanting to play games again to award a trophy in a few months. No matter what they say and what information they want to provide the public, we have already seen players complain to the union about the conditions that they are working in, and multiple Sabres reportedly asked about postponement before they faced the Devils in that mega-spreader game, but were turned down by the league. That says more than making a couple of late changes to when the coaching staff can be in the building.
According to @TSNBobMcKenzie, some Sabres players expressed concern to NHLPA last weekend.— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) February 4, 2021
Remember, Palmieri was added to the covid list before puck drop Sunday.
The NHL later denied the accusation that the one Devils-Sabres game resulted in multiple infections.
“At this point, it’s not clear to us that there was transmission between teams,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “The incubation period was shorter than it normally would be. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of days and then perhaps we will have information from which we can draw conclusions.”
After all of this, the NHL decided to take the aforementioned changes, but it doesn’t make any of the lives that they have already affected any better.
While the league’s water-carriers might try and scream “better late than never,” trying to justify their prior ineptitude, it doesn’t resolve them of their current problem. In a perfect world, from the start of this poisonous season, I would try and believe that the NHL would think of absolutely everything they can do to make it a more safe environment for the players. Hell, if the league did that and shoved it in our faces about how great they are, I wouldn’t care. It would be for the long-term health of the players and they would be displaying some actual human decency for those that work for the league.
It’s ultimately concerning how laissez-faire the league appears to be about this. Going about it with this relaxed attitude and making changes that could have prevented these several dozens of infections to players and surrounding staff a long time ago, with the look of a whoopsie-daisy and a big shrug. It could have been so easy, but the NHL decided to try and do everything normally for this abnormal—frankly meaningless—season.