#parent | #kids | NHL returns after an offseason unlike any other – Orange County Register

If there were any questions about the precarious nature of the National Hockey League’s 103rd season, which begins this week, the protocols should put them to rest.

“We’ve issued 12 protocols, spanning 213 pages,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said on a pre-season Zoom conference on Monday. “As I told the (general) managers and coaches, the protocols were not a suggestion or a recommendation. They will need to be done in order for us to address and get through the pandemic, and we will vigorously enforce them.”

They include guidelines for training camps, practice facilities, travel, and player conduct. Examples: “Stay at home to the greatest extent possible and do not engage in unnecessary interactions with non-family members.” Or: “The individual may not leave their home or hotel room for any purpose, including, if at a hotel, to use common amenities such as the hotel gym, bar, or restaurants; no visitors are permitted; and meals and medications must be delivered to the individual’s home or hotel room in a contactless manner.”

There are sections on positive tests, cleaning and disinfecting, locker room and equipment protocols, even a passage mandating that, once the regular season begins, players with confirmed positive tests will be announced publicly.

In other words, COVID-19 isn’t just another upper-body injury.

Yet all those ounces of prevention aren’t insurance against potential chaos. The Dallas Stars had their practice facility shut down last Friday after six players and two staff members tested positive. The facility still wasn’t open as of Monday, the fourth consecutive day of no practice, and the Stars’ first three games were postponed. They won’t start until next Tuesday at the earliest, five days after they’d been scheduled to open.

Personnel of 30 other clubs breathed sighs of relief that it wasn’t them. For now. The contortions the NFL had to go through to get its regular season done, and the problems already facing the NBA (the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics canceled their Sunday game because of a lack of available bodies), remind us again that in Pandemic Sports, nothing is guaranteed.

So, 107 days after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup on Sept. 28 in Edmonton, it begins anew with five games scheduled for Wednesday night. The Kings (who host Minnesota) and the Ducks (who play at Vegas) open on Thursday, 308 days since their last games on March 11.

“I labored under the delusion that once I presented the Stanley Cup, we’d be able to take a breath for a few weeks,” Bettman said. “And when my plane landed back in the New York area the next day after the Stanley Cup was presented, the phone started ringing and we were back at it again.”

The priority was to have a 2021 season and to time it in a way that would make it feasible to have a full season in 2021-22, when Seattle becomes the league’s 32nd team, in something closer to a normal time frame. The league and its players settled on a shortened and regionalized schedule, and those strict protocols are a compromise to avoid playing in another bubble. Nobody wanted that.

“Our players made an incredible sacrifice over the summer and into the fall, being away from family and friends, in some cases more than two months,” Bettman said. “I repeatedly said to (Players Association executive director) Don Fehr, ‘I’m not even gonna ask you to do that, because it wouldn’t be right and there’s no expectation that you could expect all of our players and supporting personnel to do that.’”

The other compromise? In a league heavily reliant on gate revenue, only three teams – Arizona, Dallas and Florida – will welcome limited numbers of fans. There will be none, of course, in L.A. or Anaheim. And as the San Jose Sharks hold their training camp in Arizona, there is still no indication that the rules in Santa Clara County will allow them to return home in time for their first scheduled home game on Feb. 1, nine games into the season.

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