NHL Adds New Protocols in Light of Rising COVID-19 Cases

By Jake Ricker

@JoeSmithTB tweets picture of removed boards behind benches at Amalie Arena

On Thursday, the NHL announced that they would be implementing new COVID-19 Protocols to try and help eliminate the spread of COVID-19. Let’s take a look at the new things the NHL has implemented and how they could potentially affect the Bolts.

Removal of shielding behind the benches The NHL has mandated that boards behind the benches should be removed from the arena. According to the NHL, this move’s goal is to allow the air to flow away from the benches more easily. With players and coaches all in close proximity to each other, the NHL’s goal is to prevent players from possibly catching the virus while on the bench. 

You might think this is an odd move, as players are already running into each other on the ice and sweating in locker rooms. You’re right, but the NHL is looking to do anything it can to slow the spread of the virus so they don’t have to postpone more games. Even something that may only slightly lower the spread of the virus, the league is willing to do. 

Limitation of time at the game arena The NHL has asked that players and coaches not to arrive at the arena more than one hour and 45 minutes before each game. This move aims to limit the number of time players and coaches that are in contact with each other at the arena before the game.

This is perhaps the most disliked change by the players. Many guys have routines that they do before games, whether it’s superstition or just getting their bodies and minds ready for the game. While you might think an hour and 45 minutes is still plenty of time, many players like to get to the game early, and this change has a big effect on them and their routine. As Blake Coleman put it, the change is not a big deal for himself, but he said, “I know that there’s guys that have their routines and I can understand how that would be an issue for them. Whatever makes the most sense in helping control it, we’re obviously going to follow it and do it. It’s just you’ve got to look at it and see what really is going to help and what isn’t.”

Physical Distancing in Team Spaces This change is perhaps the most difficult for the team as a whole to manage. Locker rooms are compact, is so spreading players out can be quite the challenge. Teams will have to take spaces in the arena and convert them into a locker room to give players a 6 feet distance from each other. Teams also have to do the same for the visiting locker room. 

While it is unknown just how spread-out players are, if the locker room now extends into multiple rooms, this would make things like pre-game speeches a lot more difficult. There are a few easy fixes for this, as they can just call everyone into the main room to do the speech, but this would then counteract the spreading out of the players in the first place.

The other main effects this change can have on players is morale and chemistry. Locker room chemistry is a very important aspect for a team. Players talk during intermissions about what’s going on in the game and what they might be able to do to gain momentum in the next period. While it is still possible to talk to teammates while being spread out, this will again make things more difficult for players to communicate. 

The issues mentioned above are minor and won’t have a huge effect on teams. What is more confusing is what these changes are going to accomplish in the grand scheme of things, as players are so compact once they’re on their respective benches for the game. As mentioned before, this is a hail mary attempt for the NHL to try and limit as many COVID-19 cases as possible, but it would seem this could create more problems than solutions.

Air Filtration and Air Cleaning Perhaps the change that makes the most sense, but isn’t even a requirement, is one the Bolts are already ahead on. The NHL is considering requiring teams to put portable air cleaners behind the team benches. This could potentially eliminate any possible virus that might be floating in the air. As mentioned in our video about having fans in the arena for Raptors games (fans are currently not allowed in the building), Amalie Arena installed a hospital-grade filtration system to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Bolts do not have any portable air filters set up, but if these systems are effective, the Bolts are already ahead of the curve on this one. 

There you have it, these are all the changes the NHL has made in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 within arenas. While many of them are long shots for success, the NHL cannot afford to keep postponing games. If they continue down this path, they might become forced to cancel these games instead. But as Jon Cooper said in an interview, “You just have to kind of learn to turn the other cheek and deal with it….The one thing is you have to understand there’s a good that’s coming out of this or we want to come out of this”

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