- The National Hockey League has announced that 27 players on 9 different teams tested positive for COVID-19 during training camp.
- 17 of the positive tests were Dallas Stars players.
- The NHL tested players daily with around 12,000 tests administered to more than 1,200 players.
The National Hockey League will start their 2020-2021 season on Wednesday night against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The league has taken drastic steps to facilitate play despite the pandemic, most notably a temporary realignment that includes all 7 Canadian teams playing in the same division.
A major component of their return to play plan is aggressive COVID-19 testing of players and staff. On Tuesday, the league announced that during training camp 27 players tested positive for COVID-19 on 9 different teams. Players were tested on a daily basis between December 30 and January 11 with approximately 12,000 total tests administered to over 1,200 players.
During the preseason, the players and teams with positive tests were not revealed. That will change in the regular season when the league will identify players who test positive or that are being held out of competition due to contact tracing. Commissioner Gary Bettman says that the NHL COVID-19 protocols aren’t meant to be punitive:
“The purpose of having the protocols isn’t so we can punish people. The purpose of having the protocols is to keep everybody as safe and healthy as possible. We’re seeing compliance virtually throughout the league. The testing numbers have been very good.”
So far only one team has had a serious COVID-19 outbreak–the Dallas Stars have had 17 positive tests (or 62.9% of all positive tests for those of you scoring at home). As a result of these positive tests the Stars closed their team facility on Friday and suspended team activities. Most of the Stars players are asymptomatic and all are recovering with no major issues. In addition, the league postponed the Stars’ first three games: at Florida on Thursday and Friday and at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The team was able to return to practice on Tuesday though coach Rick Bowness said 14 players were out. That notwithstanding, Bowness is happy where the team is at given the challenging circumstances:
“We had three really good days [of training camp]. We were all very happy with the conditioning of the players and the progress we made. Then you take five days off, and those first couple of drills, the hands weren’t working as well as they had been.”
At this point, it isn’t clear when Dallas will open their season. The earliest would be January 19 at Tampa Bay with January 22 against Nashville at home looking more likely. Bowness admits that not knowing the team’s schedule is a challenge:
“We don’t know if we’re playing [Jan. 19] or not. That gives us six practices to [Jan. 19], eight to [Jan. 22]. So we’ve got a lot of work to do, it’s as simple as that, with the players we have, and we’re trying to cover things without jumping too quickly from one area to another. Today was a good day, especially after five days off the ice. The guys worked hard.”
The only guidance so far from the NHL office came from deputy commissioner Bill Daly who said that Dallas will be able to play when they can put a competitive team on the ice “without jeopardizing the health and safety of players.”
Bowness maintains that his team took all of the necessary precautions including masks and social distancing:
“Listen, we did everything right last week and we still got hit with this thing. So, you know, to sit here and say there’s a perfect way to do it, there’s not. You ask for discipline from your players when they leave the rink … but somehow this thing got into our room, and we’re dealing with it the best we can.”
Some of the players that didn’t practice for Dallas on Tuesday: forwards Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa and Joel Kiviranta; and defensemen Miro Heiskanen, Julius Honka, Esa Lindell and Jamie Oleksiak.