As the 2021 NHL season gets closer and (hopefully) gets to playing soon, the COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc across the world. With this in mind, sports leagues have had to adapt to work around the virus. Some have done better than others, such as the NHL and NBA bubble playoffs, which saw zero cases in either league. Others have struggled, with the MLB regular season having multiple outbreaks on teams, and the same going for the NFL. In fact, things have gotten so bad on the NFL front that the league is mandating every team close their facilities early this week.
With rising COVID-19 numbers, team facilities will be closed to all in-person activities Monday and Tuesday, the NFL said Friday in a league-wide memo.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 28, 2020
The ban does not apply to teams playing on Monday or Tuesday.https://t.co/zxrS7I6rLV
Not only do all teams have to close their facilities, but some teams were left shorthanded while playing this past weekend, like the Denver Broncos who didn’t have a QB to play and had to resort to using a wide receiver/running back behind the center.
Introducing ...— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 29, 2020
Today's contagious disease practice squad elevation — WR Kendall Hinton. pic.twitter.com/Gv1gdCNTtc
Plus, with different regulations across the country, the San Fransisco 49ers don’t have a place to practice or play because of Santa Clara County’s strict regulations surrounding the virus:
With this in mind, we have to question how the NHL can have a with minimal outbreaks. Will less travel do the trick? Will teams have to relocate if the virus gets out of hand? There are plenty of questions that can’t be answered right now.
When it comes to less travel, the playoff bubble clearly worked but had the drawback of being incredibly expensive. On the other hand, more travel—or at least a normal amount—caused outbreaks for the NFL and MLB and poses several risks to players, staff and surrounding locations. As the NBA already has a plan set out for its condensed 2020-21 season, how will the NHL complete such a tall task?
As of now, it’s settling for what looks to be a middle-ground: less traveling in temporary, changed divisions played in hub cities. Along with this, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is still set on a full 82-game season with fans in the stands.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league hopes to return Jan. 1 and wants to play a full 82-game season with fans in arenas— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) November 29, 2020
A bubble would just be too expensive for an entire regular season—not to mention the psychological effects on the members, thanks to strict rules and being away from family. But the NHL can’t just play as it usually does either with teams traveling across the country. Hockey has to find a middle-ground with no solid proof about what will actually work.
Who knows what the playoffs, or even preseason camps, will bring. We’ve already seen an outbreak at Team Canada’s WJC training camp. How could that foreshadow the NHL preseason?
The NHL has surely been keeping a close eye on the WJC preparations and noting what’s worked and what hasn’t for its own upcoming season. For camps, there would need to be extensive testing available, adequate contact tracing and maybe even a possible quarantine before camp begins. When the season gets underway, this would need to be done at an even more extensive rate because of the heightened risk that would come with increased travel. Teams would need to catch cases before they become an issue within their own club, let alone the clubs they played in recent days. For the playoffs, we could see a relaxed bubble scenario, similar to the MLB playoffs. This could work in terms of keeping the virus out, but it again comes with a lot of extra expenses.
While all of this seems like a lot to do, it might just be necessary if there’s going to be anywhere close to a safe, clean and successful hockey season in 2021. Time will tell to see what truly ends up happening, but we can only hope for the best.