Tuesday was a reminder of just how fragile things are when it comes to sports and COVID-19. Less than a week away from their first trip back to the postseason in 18 years, the Cleveland Browns had five members of the organization test positive for COVID-19, including their head coach and two players.
As the NHL prepares to return next week for the 2020-21 season, it’s a stark reminder of what the New York Islanders and the rest of the league will have to navigate this year. The NHL successfully pulled off a summer playoff tournament in bubble cities in Canada that didn’t have one positive COVID case.
However, this time around the players won’t be in a protected space away from the general public. Teams will be traveling, albeit shorter distances, and the players will have more freedom to move around.
There will be COVID protocols in place for players and team staff, but there is no guarantee they will be totally effective or adhered to.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone does,” Scott Mayfield said earlier this week. “All you can do is be your best self and try to make sure you stay safe to keep your teammates safe to keep everyone safe. That’s kind of what you have to do, but I don’t know what guys on other teams are doing and there’s nothing we can do about that.”
The NHL has done what it can to limit exposure to the virus during training camp. Off-ice training is limited to small groups and weight room workouts are limited to 10 people.
During the season, player movements will be extremely restricted to just the rink and their hotel room. Any practices on the road must take place at the home team’s arena or practice facility.
The Islanders seemed confident that the restrictions will be followed during the season. Jordan Eberle noted that with a family to care after, it makes it easier to stay home and not be as tempted to want to go out during the season.
“That’s always going to be an aspect and these are new conditions,” Eberle said on Sunday. “It’s just new for everybody in the way that the season is going to go about. Number one, you look around at the way the NFL has gone and the NBA and baseball, number one it’s just going to be staying healthy. We have a ton amount of games in a short period of time, you get sick or you get other teammates sick, or whatever it may be you’re going to lose a week to two weeks.
“That’s a ton of games and in a short season, those are important games. I think we have the luxury on our team of being a pretty veteran group, a lot of guys are in the same situation as me and I just think that makes it easier.”
Still, players and coaches able to be out in the world during this season means there is an added need for caution during the course of the season.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz noted that the Toronto and Edmonton bubble made it easier to control a lot of the environment. There are now a lot of uncontrolled elements this time around.
“When we got into the bubble we were basically in the safest place on Earth almost,” Trotz said recently. “There wasn’t a lot of worries and a lot of thought in terms of the person next to you. … Now you’re putting us into the real world a little bit and you have to be extra diligent because I don’t know where the bus driver was. We’ll have all these protocols, but you can’t deviate a whole lot.”