VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — NHL players have only been back on the ice for a couple of weeks and already there are nearly three dozen positive COVID-19 cases in their small bubbles. But with training camps set to start in a week, the league is unlikely to cancel the 2020 season, according to Scott Rintoul, host with Sportsnet 650.
“The percentage testing positive is very much in line with what we were seeing before, around five and a half per cent — lower than a lot of the other sports, some of which have tried to get up and running, again,” Rintoul said.
“The good news for the NHL is they still have time. They can still tweak their protocols, if necessary.”
The key, he added, is to safely get players to the hub cities, expected to the Edmonton and Toronto, and to keep them in their bubbles.
Alberta’s chief medical health officer said it is possible for Edmonton to safely be a hub city. But Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province has set out firm COVID-19 guidelines for the league that would have to be followed, otherwise the province would step in.
“If guidance is not being followed, if it’s being disregarded, and if the public’s health is being put at risk, then we would follow the same steps that we would take with any other organizer, in terms of that same kind of ladder of follow-up with conversations, education, and, if needed, measures to ensure that compliance was in place,” Hinshaw said.
The league and players association announced penalties Monday for team officials who leave the bubbles, including dismissal, fines and loss of draft picks.
Initially, families won’t join players in the hub cities, and the league is reportedly offering to assist the families with errands, such as groceries.
NHL games are to resume in early August, with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on Sunday the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have agreed on protocols to resume the season. That includes daily testing once games get underway for players, coaches, and staff.
However, Daly said the sides are still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement extension. A CBA extension is still crucial to the process, and the league’s board of governors, the players’ executive committee, and full membership must approve that and the return-to-play protocols to bring hockey back this summer.
If ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown for 31 teams across North America that began in mid-March.
The NHL says 35 players in total have tested positive for the novel coronavirus over roughly the past month.
The league says 23 of 396 players checked for COVID-19 at team facilities have tested positive since voluntary workouts began June 8, a five-per-cent rate.
In that same period of time, it is aware of 12 additional positive test results.