Rick Zamperin: Coronavirus already impacts upcoming NHL season

With the National Hockey League just a couple of days away from starting its abbreviated 56-game regular season, there’s word that COVID-19 has impacted the schedule even before the first puck is dropped.

The NHL said it is “reviewing and revising” the Dallas Stars’ schedule after revealing Friday that six players and two staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The defending Western Conference champions were slated to open their season on Thursday in Florida but the league says it is unlikely that the Stars will play a game any earlier than Jan. 19.

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It means Dallas’ first two games against the Panthers as well as their Stanley Cup rematch against Tampa Bay on Jan. 18, will have to be rescheduled.

Dallas has closed its training facility for the next several days and the affected players and staff are now self-isolating, but the Stars are not alone.

The Columbus Blue Jackets said it “held a number of players” out of Friday’s practice “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols,” and the Pittsburgh Penguins cancelled their practice on Saturday due to a potential COVID-19 exposure.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, and by extension, the Toronto Raptors, will no longer have fans in attendance at Amelie Arena due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across west-central Florida.

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There were zero cases of COVID-19 when the NHL finished the 2019-20 season last summer in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles and while we won’t see a bubble, or bubbles, this year, the league has gone to great lengths to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

All four divisions have been realigned and teams will only play against other teams in their own division, players and coaches will be restricted to the arena and hotel when on the road, and there will be no fans — or very few in some cases — allowed in NHL rinks.

Even so, just like we have seen in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball, there will be some positive cases among NHL teams.

Not to make COVID-19 sound trivial, but the clubs that are least affected by the virus could be the ones that are the most successful on the ice.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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