The NHL has a different idea, except that it is the same idea

Illustration for article titled NHL has a different idea, except it's the same idea

Illustration: Eric Barrow (Shutterstock)

What we have learned so far about sports trying to return to the US in the midst of a pandemic (and ballooning) is that no model has proven to be safe. The “bubble” model did not protect MLS from contaminating its Orlando bubble to the point that Dallas FC was being isolated there and the teams were fear of flying at all. So far, NWSL has been able to pull off their tournament without disaster, although that was after an entire team had to beg. The MLB “base of operations” model has already crumbled, with the Nationals and Astros canceling team practice today and the Athletics haven’t even had a full one yet because the chosen laboratory could not to exhaust test results from last week. The NBA has already closed several camps before they even head to Florida.

So the NHL has the impression that it is got this code cracked through the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto it’s completely funny if it doesn’t mean, you know, people’s lives were in danger, because after all, this is the damn NHL. As if a league that has issued fines equivalent to changes in sofa cushions for serious blows to the head has managed to keep people safe from a murderous virus. Totally adds up. This is a league where Patrice Bergeron played with a hole in his lung. So, of course, they are diving head first into an environment where there is a disease that puts multiple holes in the lungs.

The points on the plan don’t sound all that different from what you’ve heard in other leagues. Each team will be allowed a delegation of 52, including a limit of 31 players. The highlight of this is that each team must bring in a social media creator, presumably to keep presenting “Everything is fine! We’re having tea! League and team propaganda as players send anonymous text messages to Pierre LeBrun about how miserable and scared they are and everything south of the border continues to burn.

Where it all falls apart, at least in theory, is that all members of the traveling parties, as well as hotel staff and track employees and anyone else involved in this, will be evaluated every day. That’s up to 2,000 tests per day from the two bubble sites combined. Keep in mind that the MLB test plan didn’t even pass three days before it collapsed.

And like everyone else, the league has outlined isolation and testing processes for those who test positive, but none of that matters until the rubber hits the road. They mention the 10-day isolation before retesting for anyone who initially tested positive, but with each team bringing in their own doctor, do we think they can meet this when the game returns? If MItch Marner tests positive before Game 4 against Columbus, do we really think the Leafs will stop him? Jordan Binnington tests positive for the Blues at the start of the second round, are they really going to hand things over to Jake Allen? (That’s if the blues even get to edmonton)

The plan also outlines a contact tracking protocol if a player or staff member tests positive, but that’s pretty much everyone on the team. It states that “for more than 15 minutes within six feet or less in the 48 hours prior to the positive test.” So for players, they can argue that with all the skating in practice it wasn’t 15 consecutive minutes, and given the virus incubation period, two days very well might not be a sufficient window. And again, let’s see this happen when the games start, Yes they get going.

The NHL also provides “social outings” outside of each bubble, meaning team golf outings, basically. But once again, the crux of this plan depends on every player and every staff member adhering to protocol and the bubble, and it’s not as if former Mossad agents patrolled the grounds to keep everyone in, except for these designated outlets. Ask the Orlando pride how was that for everyone

The plan establishes severe penalties for anyone who leaves the bubble, such as significant fines and a strict two-week quarantine, as well as the loss of draft picks for the team. But again, let’s see how they do it when it really makes a difference.

Each party is allowed to request that a game or games be disconnected if they consider the environment to be unsafe. Except that what that constitutes is not described. Both the NHL and NHLPA have said that a positive test, or even a group of positive tests, for a team will not automatically remove that team from the competition. With each team bringing in 31 players, would it really take more than 11 positive tests for a team where they couldn’t eliminate 20 players? Would the NHL allow a team to skate with just 18 or 19 men? He has done this because of salary cap problems in the past.

This seems no less doomed to failure than any other plan. Which doesn’t mean that it won’t take place no matter what happens, because this is hell and the world is a nightmare.