NHL passes first coronavirus test but now comes the hard part

The Stanley Cup tournament will provide foci of normality at this unique time. That will be very welcome. Truth be told, having the opportunity to hit the practice track and see the Rangers go through mid-summer drills, for the most part, mid-summer, represented a welcome turn from normalcy.

And now the games will start in Toronto and Edmonton as the NHL enters its two bubble centers and its life under lockdown for up to 10 weeks for teams emerging as Cup finalists. We will record wins and losses, goals and the saves, xGF, Corsi and all peripherals.

But as the league enters its twin cocoons, health and safety are paramount. The two weeks of the NHL Phase 3 training camp went so well that it’s almost miraculous. If you look at hockey and hockey alone, you might forget that the United States is experiencing a furious pandemic with no end in sight.

That’s a credit to NHL and NHLPA leadership, who worked methodically for months in collaboration with infectious disease experts and health officials in the United States and Canada to develop safety protocols. That’s a credit to the medical trainers, team people, and team doctors who have implemented these mandates. And that is also a credit to athletes, who have adhered to the guidelines created and have returned from their break with the best of intentions.

Also, who wants to be the man (or among the group of men) who is so careless or so selfish that he would risk undermining the entire company for a few moments of frivolity or earthly pleasures? Anonymity would not exist for that hypothetical individual, no matter how much the Palestinian Authority wants to protect his identity.

Ah Risk. Once again, everything has been going so well on the tracks across the continent in this past fortnight, it’s easy to forget that players, staff, NHL officials and employees who enter the hermetically sealed environment are at risk by being there.

Yes, civilian exposure will be limited and rare, and yes, testing will be ubiquitous, but there is no guarantee that the NHL can carry it out. In reporting the mundane, the choice of goalkeeper # 1, which top line might be best, which first-year players might have the greatest impact, etc., we imply that a safe environment should be taken for granted.

However, it is likely closer to the truth that it will be a miracle if the NHL can carry out such a massive adventure of this magnitude. If a Stanley Cup champion is crowned in late September or early October, it will represent the greatest success in league history. In that case, we suggest that even the cardboard cutouts in the stands move enough to give Gary Bettman a standing ovation when he presents the chalice to Henrik Lundqvist.

(I just wanted to make sure you’re still with me.)

Surely there are questions we should ask ourselves about the priorities of a society and culture in which thousands of tests will be conducted per day and will be turned around in 24 hours for Pro $ port $ League $, while most of us remain hostage to the chaos enacted by the federal government, but hockey is not responsible for it.

No one knows exactly what to expect, but I do expect hockey to be extremely competitive from the start. The 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the USSR began on September 2. The 1996 Hockey World Cup ended with Game 3 of the finals on September 14. Therefore, there is a wealth of high-quality summer hockey that serves as evidence of what motivated players can do even if they start with a permanent start.

The league will try to adapt the tracks with the unique flavor of each city in Toronto and Edmonton. It’s still unknown if “Potvin sucks” after the whistle that lights up the four-decade chant will be part of the package for Game 3, Rangers vs. USA. Candy Canes. There is that word again.

Everything is ahead of us. It’s all ahead of the NHL. We have spent a lifetime getting acquainted with the defensive zone, the neutral zone and the offensive zone, and on the red, blue and checkered lines. Now we talk about the bubble zone. We are now talking about lines that cannot be crossed in an effort to keep the virus off the track.

The goal is to crown a Stanley Cup champion. But the overriding goal is for everyone to remain safe. Let’s be careful out there.