The NHL hasn’t played a game yet and the threat of COVID-19 already looms large.
Several teams have been affected before Wednesday’s opening day. The Vancouver Canucks canceled their practices and workouts Sunday because of concerns of exposure to the virus. The Pittsburgh Penguins canceled practice Saturday. The Columbus Blue Jackets said Friday multiple players will miss time because of COVID-19 protocols. And the Dallas Stars had the start to their season delayed because of an outbreak.
The league said Tuesday 27 players tested positive during the two-week period from Dec. 30 to Jan. 11. Seventeen were Stars.
The news is a warning sign of the difficulties of playing the season in the middle of a pandemic. And the Golden Knights have heeded the warning.
“You can’t be cautious enough,” defenseman Shea Theodore said. “With this virus going around, you don’t know where you can get it from, you don’t know how you can get it, so it’s important for myself and for everyone just to be extra cautious.”
The Knights avoided any positive COVID-19 tests during the postseason in the NHL’s bubble in Edmonton, Alberta. But the virus still affected the team in the offseason.
Four players tested positive in November, and one had “fairly significant symptoms” that did not require hospitalization, according to coach Pete DeBoer.
The goal is to prevent a similar situation from impacting the season, even though the Knights no longer will be separated from the public. Nevada reported 2,593 new cases Tuesday.
“It’s all about everyone taking the responsibility off the ice,” center William Karlsson said. “It’s as simple as that. Try to avoid being out as much as possible. Protect yourself and protect the others on the team.”
The league needed 54 pages to cover its COVID-19 protocols. Social distancing is to be enforced at all times when off the ice. Same with wearing face coverings. Tests will be administered daily from training camp through at least the first four weeks of the season.
Visiting teams can only stay at one hotel in each city. Still, outbreaks might occur. If they do, the league purposely doesn’t have a lot of hard-and-fast rules so it can remain flexible.
The league, for example, doesn’t have a positive test threshold that will force a team to postpone or cancel a game. The issue probably will come up, though, given that the NFL, NBA, MLB and other leagues have had to adjust their schedules.
The NHL is allowing teams to carry a four-to-six-player taxi squad to make lineup shuffling easier if cases do arise.
“We think that creates an added element of flexibility that will allow our clubs to better navigate the situation in the COVID world,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday. “We’re really just making sure that we’re in the best situation possible to adjust on the fly so we are not in a position where we lose a significant number of games.”