If the NHL is able to somehow attempt to shoehorn in a summer playoff, it’s one thing to contemplate games played in empty, neutral site arenas.
It’s quite another to consider how the integrity of the game itself would be affected by playing in a world without a vaccine for COVID-19.
What sort of rule changes would have to be considered?
Where would players sit between shifts? Social distancing rules would need to change because the current requirements for a stick-length between us all would only leave room for four or five players on the bench, tops.
Would the coaches loom a foot behind those lads, or one row deep, in the stands?
Consider the age-old practice of administering face-washes, which are in vogue every spring.
“I think we have to get our heads around the new normal,” said Flames GM Brad Treliving when asked about modifications to the game itself, which few are talking about.
“I think we’ve got lots of challenges. What is it going to look like if, and when, we come back? We’ve talked about all sorts of things. There’s certainly a lot of hurdles to cross. But, if you’ve got time you use it.
“All those host of things you raise are on the list, and going to be addressed. The league is very committed to try to complete this season.”
Adds Treliving, “testing is a huge part of what we’re going to have to have – that could all be part of the new normal.”
The fact is, whether the NHL resumes this summer, the fall or next winter, it’s hard to fathom how players could be immersed in a high-paced, contact sport without risk of exposing one another to a virus they may not know anyone has.
Sure, there would be extensive testing of every player, media-type and official in the rink, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety.
A single positive test to a player would put an abrupt end to the experiment, costing the league more millions as it is paused again.
“Where my mind goes there, is are we going to be back to wearing bubbles and masks – who knows,” Treliving said.
“We’re still in the early stages of this. It’s like everything else, at some point you get a vaccine. In the interim we’ve got this new thing thrust upon us – I think they’re going to look at a bunch of things. That sort of stuff is all on the list.”
It’s a lot easier to envision the return of televised golf or car racing in fan-less settings than it is for a game like hockey.
Of course, the NHL won’t proceed in any way without the blessing of the world’s top health officials, who would clearly have concerns about the unavoidable contact players have with one another every time they hit the ice.
With health officials still of the belief a vaccine is at least a year or year-and-a-half away, these aren’t questions just for possible summer play, but next fall and beyond.
What would the league be willing to do in terms of altering the game itself to better protect players?
Can anyone fathom a pro athlete competing while wearing a medical mask?
Yes, the league owes it to all stakeholders to cling to the fading possibility all these questions can be answered, while keeping in mind what’s paramount is everyone’s safety.
“Let’s focus on the health and welfare of everyone in our city, province, country and the world and let the smart people guide us,” Treliving said.
While the league has reportedly had eight players who have tested positive for COVID-19, none of them are Flames.
Spread out around the world, none of the Flames players have been tested.
That will change, as will so many things we have yet to even think of.