Straight Jackets: COVID concerns continue as league nears July 30 restart

Jim Fischer
Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois

July 30 is my birthday.

July 30 is the date the first games of the resumed NHL season are scheduled to begin.

Will there be a big watch party (me, alone at home, socially distanced, with beer) for my birthday?

The league is committed to the timeline, it announced over the weekend, despite reports of players returning to team facilities for informal workouts testing positive for COVID-19.

My personal mixed feelings about the prospects of  having hockey back are well-traveled territory in recent editions of Straight Jackets. But it seems clear at this point that the league anticipated positive tests at this juncture and has a plan to manage them.

About 10 days ago, reports surfaced that a team had to shut down its official training facility after three returned players and three other staffers tested positive. It was subsequently reported that the team was the Tampa Bay Lightning, which I guess isn't that surprising, with cases on the rise in Florida (although it wasn't reported which players tested positive, or if they had been in Florida or were returning to Tampa from somewhere else). The Lightning's facility remained closed at press time as team and league officials continue contact tracing, testing and other efforts to limit the spread.

It also leaked that Auston Matthews tested positive, and since the Toronto Maple Leafs star was at his home in Arizona, another recent hot spot, maybe that's not much of a surprise, either. Matthews is in 14 days of quarantine, hoping to be ready for the official opening of training camps on July 10.

The Leafs, you are likely aware, are the Jackets' matchup in the first play-in round.

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In all, the league reported 11 players tested positive prior to reporting for voluntary workouts, in addition to 15 positive tests among those done as players reported to team facilities, though the league didn’t specify how many  of the 15 were players versus team personnel. Players will continue to return, and thus be tested, as July 10 nears.

If you've been paying attention, you know the league plans, after these brief training camps, to bring every team to one of two "hubs," where they'll be sequestered until eliminated. An argument can be made that players will be safer under such conditions, with limited exposure and rigorous testing. I'd assume the league is holding its collective breath, hoping it can navigate the next month without a significant outbreak.

The question begs, of course, what happens if they get to the hubs and there are more positive tests? While the players and league are still working this out, I find it hard to see how it would be possible to continue.

So while I'm trying not to get my hopes up, I'm hoping for birthday hockey, and that what begins that day is able to end with a team raising the Stanley Cup. Until then, COVID-19 is still going to impact every NHL-related conversation.