Does NHL have best chance to actually pull off this return?

Scott McLaughlin
July 06, 2020 - 12:56 pm

We are in theory getting closer to more sports returning, at least in terms of the calendar moving closer to the dates for training camps and games to start.

However, it's still hard to view anything as a certainty. Players across the NHL, NBA and MLB continue to test positive for COVID-19 as team activities ramp up. Some MLB teams have had to hit pause on their just-begun summer camps as testing has run into complications. Some notable names in the NBA and MLB have opted out of their league's returns, including former Red Sox pitcher David Price.

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Daily coronavirus cases in the United States continue to spike, including in many southern and western states that have MLB teams, and in Orlando, where the NBA is set to host its postseason bubble.

It's easy to see why the feeling around all of this can best be described as "uncomfortable," and why players are acknowledging that "by no means is this a slam dunk."

While individual sports like golf and NASCAR have returned, the only professional team sports league in North America to resume so far has been the National Women's Soccer League with its Challenge Cup in Utah. Major League Soccer is scheduled to return Wednesday with its MLS Is Back Tournament in Orlando.

Of the so-called "big four" leagues, there's reason to believe that the NHL may be best positioned to actually pull this off and see it through to the end.

Like the NBA, the NHL is heading to bubbles in hub cities, which right away cuts down on travel and contact with the outside world. Unlike the NBA, though, the NHL is not heading to a hot spot.

Both NHL hub cities (Edmonton and Toronto) are in Canada, which has seen its number of cases and deaths pretty consistently decline over the last two months, with no signs of a second surge like the U.S. has experienced. Toronto was hit harder than Edmonton, but is still in better shape than Orlando and many other American cities. The entire province of Ontario reported 154 new cases and no new deaths Monday, while Orange County, home of Orlando, is currently one of the hardest-hit areas of Florida and reported more than 1,000 new cases in a day over the weekend.

In addition, the NHL's strict protocols for its bubble cities were revealed over the weekend, including daily testing for everyone in the bubble, penalties for teams and players who don't comply with safety protocols, tight security that will prevent anyone from entering or exiting the bubble without permission, mask requirements, extensive contact tracing and cleaning procedures, and more.

On Dale and Keefe Monday, Dale Arnold said that all those factors lead him to believe that if any league's going to be able to complete its season, it's the NHL.

"Here's the difference, why I think hockey has a better chance of pulling this off than even basketball," Arnold said. "They're both bubble sports. They've got a better chance than baseball and football to begin with. But the basketball bubble sport is going to the hottest spot in America right now. Florida is the number one spot. They actually had more positive tests in a day in Florida over the weekend than New York City ever had in a single day. So let's take all the NBA to Florida.

"The NHL is taking their bubble sport, their two spots, to Canada, Edmonton and Toronto, where the numbers are dramatically lower. So if one of these sports can pull it off, I have a feeling hockey has a better chance at it."

NHL insider John Shannon also joined the show Monday, and explained that while he still has questions about whether the NHL can pull this off, he knows that a lot of thought and planning has gone into this, and that the league is going to take every precaution possible.

"They have certainly been focused and working hard on something for a long period of time," Shannon said. "I think with all that down time after the games were postponed in March, they seemed focused on making sure that if they were to come back, it would be in a timely fashion and it would be safe. The fact that they've gone through this protocol and figured out it makes sense to be in Canada, Edmonton and Toronto for the two cities... A week ago, we were supposed to be in Las Vegas and Vancouver, so they've had to change and adapt in order to try to make this thing work. If it is to work, and the rules and regulations are 87 pages long, then there's a chance.

"I still think the NBA is in a comparable situation with what's supposed to happen in Orlando, although they seem to have a lot more cases of COVID amongst the players. That's the one thing I would tell you about the NHL players right now, is they seem to have really buckled down, worn their masks. The amount of testing that has gone on since the Phase 2 opened and players could skate in the facilities has been diligent. So there are some positive signs to making sure we can see hockey games on August 1."

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