NHL Makes Its Return To Play During COVID-19
January 15, 2021
Throughout COVID-19 we have been keeping track of how professional and college sports have planned their return to play. With Major League Baseball’s season behind us, the NFL in the playoffs, and the NBA underway, the NHL was the last of the major pro sports to begin a new season. We’d like to take a moment this week to discuss how the NHL has planned their return to play and what lessons may be learned from other professional leagues.
NHL gets creative
The NHL was the last of the major four sports to kick off their season. One of the unique challenges they faced was that there are seven Canadian teams who will be playing in Canada. The NBA, who’s Toronto Raptors are the only other Canadian team in the major four leagues, is playing in Tampa Bay this season. However, the NHL’s Canadian teams will be playing in Canada. In order to get around border restrictions that would not allow American teams to come into Canada or vice versa, the NHL decided to realign their divisions. This realignment includes a division dedicated to Canadian teams.
Unlike in past seasons, this season will see teams playing only their divisional opponents through the regular season. This is likely an exciting development for Canadian fans as well as fans of other divisional rivalries.
Another benefit that comes with this approach is that costs associated with travel will be reduced. This is critical in a season where the league stands to lose significant sums of money due to a shorter season and fewer fans in attendance.
Other COVID-19 considerations
Not all players may be comfortable with play despite COVID measures. As a result, the league announced that players could opt out of the season with discipline or penalty so long as they alerted their team seven days before training camps kicked off.
Following initial quarantines, players will have to undergo daily temperature checks and testing will occur on a daily basis during the first four weeks of the season. The league has said it will evaluate whether daily testing will be required following those initial four weeks. The NHL has also been hesitant to commit to how many COVID-19 cases it would take for the season to be halted.
Lessons learned from other sports
The NFL is close to wrapping up its season, but it continues to struggle with Covid-19 spikes. The Cleveland Browns, who won their game last week were able to do so despite many players, including their quarterback, having spent the week prior in isolation due to exposure to the virus. As of late-December, it was reported that the NFL had administered 840,460 COVID-19 tests to players and personnel, resulting in 201 confirmed cases among players and 359 among personnel.
The NBA is in the early stages of its season and by January 6 had seen 16 players test positive for COVID-19 following 497 tests. These positive cases have resulted in several games having to be postponed, something that was also experienced by the NFL.
Mark Feigenbaum of Feigenbaum Law holds a US Masters of Laws degree in Entertainment, Media and Sports Law, and a Doctorate in Law focusing on the taxation of sports and entertainment professionals. His rare distinction in these areas is coupled with his industry experience, making Feigenbaum Law uniquely positioned to understand and advise on the complexities of tax and representation issues for professional and elite athletes on both sides of the border. We provide our clients in sports and entertainment with personalized attention and detailed oversight of a number of issues. Contact us to learn how our skilled team can assist you. We can be reached online or by phone at (877) 275-4792.