Credit to the NHL, in that its summer bubble went off about as smoothly as could be imagined, allowing the league to complete its playoffs and award the Stanley Cup. Betting that the NHL wouldn’t be able to get through anything without fucking up royally was a very chalky play, so it was a real upset when they didn’t.
Their preparations for this season appear to be a return to normalcy. How “comforting.” You can only spin off your axis for so long.
The NHL waited longer than their winter roommates, the NBA, to figure out how to play a season during the pandemic. The extra time might have led to more understanding from everyone about what was required and just how much of a challenge pulling off a non-bubble season is. And it may just be that it isn’t possible to do. The fact that the NHL could barely get through a week before major upheaval makes you think the latter is true.
The Dallas Stars have already had to postpone their first two games of their season this week with the Florida Panthers because six players and two staff members have tested positive. Rescheduling games for any NHL team this year is going to be a headache, as teams are basically scheduled to play every other day the whole season. The Stars have a couple two-day breaks, including one between games against the Panthers that could be used, but there aren’t many of them. There is also a four-day break right at the end of the season that was clearly installed as a window for postponed games, but once that’s taken, what happens if more games are delayed?
Secondly, games can’t just be crammed into any two-day break teams might have. Teams are playing two or three-game “series” against each other this year to reduce travel. That would be defeated if say, the Stars had to bounce down to Miami in between games in Detroit, for example. Again, the Stars and Panthers can handle these two games being postponed, but one or two more and then the league is looking at teams not getting to 56 games. Maybe it’s already acquiesced in private to that happening, anyway.
But of course, hockey being the ultimate team game (as they love to tell you), the Stars haven’t been left adrift as far as being the lone incubus. The Pittsburgh Penguins had to cancel practice yesterday due to possible exposure, though no confirmed positive tests have been announced yet. As of now, the Penguins are going to scrimmage tonight, but that could be chalked off as well. And considering teams get just two weeks or so of practice, any missed time is a serious dent in preparation. The Blue Jackets had nearly half their training camp roster held out of practice on Friday due to possible exposure.
The league will hope this is as bad as it gets, though we know it won’t be. With the virus raging uncontrolled in pretty much all of the country, it’s hard to know what can be done to keep it out of dressing rooms and staffs of teams that are essentially “on their own,” away from the rink and traveling from city to city, even if the league says the players and staffs are on strict lockdown when traveling (plane to bus to hotel to arena and that’s it). MLB found out that wasn’t exactly easy for players to maintain, and there are selfish morons everywhere. Not to mention the wear of simply going from home to work or hotel to work every day for weeks and months. Anyone’s liable to crack just to get some air.
The season starts Wednesday, and the league will be praying nothing more happens before launch. It would seem prayer and hope are just about their only plan from here on out.