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The last three days should have been busy for the NHL, with 24 games Friday, Saturday and Sunday involving teams jockeying for division titles, playoff position, or better draft lottery odds. With the season paused because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, players who were advised by the league to self-isolate are finding creative ways to stay in shape while offering a peek at their homes and their humor via social media.
Players have posted videos of themselves trying to work out in their living rooms, basements and kitchens only to be interrupted by their adorable kids or equally adorable dogs. Some filmed themselves stickhandling through obstacle courses comprised of rolls of toilet paper. A few worked on their soccer skills by juggling toilet paper rolls, with uneven results.
Kings defenseman Mikey Anderson and his brother Joey, a forward for the New Jersey Devils, competed in a series of contests in their family’s Minnesota garage for — you guessed it — a four-roll pack of toilet paper. In a world turned upside down and essential goods being hoarded, the Stanley Cup might no longer be hockey’s biggest prize.
Over the weekend the count of known positive coronavirus tests among NHL players reached two when the Ottawa Senators announced a second member of the team had tested positive after returning from a trip to play the Sharks at San Jose on March 7, the Ducks at Honda Center on March 10, and the Kings at Staples Center on March 11. The number of positives could grow: Of the Senators’ 52-member traveling party — including staff, media, guests and the flight crew — eight people were tested after showing symptoms. Two were positive and results weren't in for other tests administered last week, the Senators said.
In addition, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said via email that results were pending on a number of tests performed league-wide. A spokesman for the Sharks told the San Jose Mercury News no players had shown symptoms related to COVID-19 and, as a result, no players had been tested. Representatives of the Kings and the Ducks have said their players haven’t shown symptoms.
“Everyone who took part in the Ottawa Senators trip to California was instructed to self-quarantine on Friday, March 13th and remain so,” the Senators’ statement said Saturday. “The Ottawa Senators' medical team is actively monitoring players and staff and following all appropriate and professional guidelines to help ensure the health and safety of our employees and the greater community.”
The NHL is staying in touch with teams regularly by email or conference calls, but there isn’t much Daly or Commissioner Gary Bettman can say in the face of so many unknowns. “We told them to self-quarantine on the day we paused the season: March 12. There has been no real change in advice or direction,” Daly said.
Bettman, interviewed Thursday on ESPN’s “Get Up,” hasn’t given up on resuming the season in a way that would allow the Cup to be awarded. Despite his many achievements in boosting the NHL’s scope and revenues, he always will be remembered as the first commissioner of a major North American professional sports league — and so far the only one — to cancel an entire season. He killed the 2004-05 season to get a salary cap, but that was his choice. The decision on whether this season can finish might be out of his hands if local and federal governments don’t declare it safe to play, even in empty arenas.
“I believe that, under the current circumstances, we can go later than we’ve ever gone. How late is a good question,” Bettman said. “What we want to make sure of is that we don’t do anything from this season that might impact next season having the normalcy it’s supposed to have.
“So, the two factors are timing, relative to how late we can go without impacting next season, and making sure that whatever we do competitively, if we’re going to complete this current season, it has to have integrity. It has to be respectful of the well over 100-year history of the Stanley Cup.”
Those two factors clash. The regular-season schedule was about 85 percent completed, and to finish it would push the playoffs into July or August and create a too-quick turnaround to start training camp in September for 2020-21. To keep next season semi-normal, the rest of this season would have to be scrapped or the playoffs would have to be condensed. Ice conditions are bad enough in May and June in many rinks. In July or August, the ice would be slush. “I don’t think anyone has a magic potion as to what is the right thing to do,” Bettman said.
A few good things have happened during this bad time. NHL teams have pledged to pay game-day employees, at least for a while, and a handful of players have chipped in to help. Teams are keeping fans engaged by staging simulated games or producing custom wallpapers for fans’ phones. Players have donated gear to be auctioned for charity, and the Vegas Golden Knights started a digital book club, with Ken Dryden’s landmark “The Game” being the first selection.
Hockey Night in Canada aired hockey-themed movies last Saturday, and NBCSN this week will air replays of memorable outdoor games, decisive playoff contests and great Olympic moments, including the U.S. women’s hockey team’s gold medal victory over Canada at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
All to be viewed alone, with immediate family, or at a socially responsible distance from others until the trail of the Stanley Cup becomes safe for everyone to follow.