The credo that players aren’t to shake hands with one another before or after a game is an easy one for the NHL to adopt.
But no spitting or talking at close proximity to one other?
Live, televised pro sports returned to action Friday with Korea’s top soccer league kicking off with a series of rules, restrictions, additions and omissions the NHL is sure to be taking note of for the possibility of an unlikely return this summer, if not the fall or a year from now.
The seats at Jeonju World Cup Stadium were empty, covered by flags of support, and a message for television viewers that read, ‘Stay Strong.’
Recorded crowd noise was piped in at times to break eerie silence previously disrupted by the occasional shouts of players. A lone broadcaster called the game from an off-site studio, unable to provide much in the way of insight.
Team-branded face masks were worn by the substitute players, coaches and a fourth official on the sideline.
No one wore masks on the pitch.
Fist-bumps replaced handshakes at the conclusion of the stilted, 1-0 win by Jeonbuk.
No, Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving did not tune in for the world’s first glimpse at sports’ new reality, but suffice it to say, there’s plenty of interest in the return to action in various sports.
“Certainly the league is paying attention,” said Treliving.
“We’re all trying to stay on top of all the different sports and leagues worldwide to see all the regulations involved in coming back. As you see people coming back, it’s not going to be perfect. You’re going to learn from what goes well and what doesn’t go well. Steal what information you can and share it.”
Treliving said last week he believes the key to any return for the NHL will be testing – something that needs to be more widespread before anything can move forward.
All 1,100 K League staffers and players were tested and cleared last week, followed up by players having their temperatures taken before kickoff.
If the NHL is somehow able to adopt the hub-city playoff formula it’s contemplating for resumption of the season this summer, players would have to be regularly tested.
At this point, it’s far from a possibility given the priority the public healthcare system takes over allowing specialized groups to secure rampant access to testing.
North America lags behind Korea in that capacity. Korea’s testing capacity has limited the country to fewer than 300 fatalities due to the novel coronavirus. In the U.S., more than 1,000 are still dying daily, which is why there is still plenty of time between now and when the NHL could possibly resume.
In the meantime, Treliving is optimistic the NHL’s member clubs are getting closer to allowing their facilities open for small groups of players to start skating and working out.
“Our medical team is preparing for what could take place,” said Treliving.
“It won’t be, ‘open the doors’ and everyone comes in. Whether you’re in small groups, it’s ‘what testing has to take place?’ Not only before, but on a regular basis. How do you keep people separated to a certain extent prior to going on the ice.”
The Ontario government eased restrictions on professional sports teams Friday, allowing them to open their training facilities.
Alberta has yet to follow suit.
The Raptors will open their athletic facilities with limited access Monday, following in the footsteps of MLS, which already opened the door for individual player workouts outdoors.
The NBA’s guidelines for practices allow only four players at a time in the building, while the Raptors will only allow one.
Treliving has said his club is fully prepared to adhere to provincial safety guidelines and protocol allowing no more than 15 people to gather at any time. Calgary city officials have decreed that ban will stay in place until at least the end of August.
Flames goalie Cam Talbot just drove his family from Alberta to Ontario for the summer, giving an indication of how unlikely many feel the league can cobble together a summer conclusion.
Once given clearance, players would start to return to the cities in which their teams are situated and start skating in small groups of five or 10.
Of course, anyone returning to Calgary from overseas or the U.S. would be subjected to a 14-day quarantine first, as pointed out by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Again, chances of a conclusion to this season are a long shot.
Yet, the league’s prerogative is to continue to look at models that could see them play in August, September or October, pushing the start of next season to as late as December.
Elliotte Friedman reported the NHL and NHLPA agree 45-to-55 days will be needed between the end of the playoffs and the start of the 2020-21 season.