The National Hockey League has done an exceptional job helping flatten the COVID-19 curve. With news of coronavirus outbreaks in various parts of cities, states and provinces on the daily throughout North America, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman continues to stay the course in his plan to effectively house professional athletes, while providing fans with the highest level of professional sporting entertainment during the current global pandemic.

A vast undertaking originally thought of as obscure and beyond measure amid the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown, the NHL’s return-to-play committee, the Players’ Association, and all team members, coaches, managers, and hotel and facility staff have put in fantastic work to ensure the utmost safety of all of those within the two NHL hub city ‘bubbles’.

Introducing the 24-team 2020 postseason play-in on May 26, Bettman announced that participating teams would travel to the hub cities on July 24, before beginning competition with exhibition games the following day. The best-of-five Qualifying Round saw zero positive COVID-19 tests, to which 7,013 nasal swabs were completed. The second week saw 7,245 tests completed, which also all returned negative.

The official first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs began on August 9, with no series requiring a seventh game. Only three of the eight series went to six games, which helped speed up the overall process. Once again, zero COVID-19 tests came back positive throughout that time period. With Round Two nearing completion, stats came out on Monday indicating another week of zero positives – a phenomenal achievement, considering the current global situation.

“The NHL completed the fifth week of its Phase IV return-to-play with no positive test results for COVID-19 among the 2,814 tests administered,” a league statement read Monday. “Testing was administered on a daily basis to all members of the Clubs’ 52-member travelling parties, including Players, during the period from August 23 through August 29. The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on COVID-19 testing results. The League will not be providing information on the identity of any individuals or Clubs.”

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With only eight teams remaining in the hunt, just 2,814 tests were conducted the past week (on all team players, coaches and staff), but as per recent tradition, all tests came back negative. The most recent positive COVID-19 test occurred during Phase II of the NHL’s return-to-play structure, which saw teams beginning to practice in small groups within organizational facilities.

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Now entering the sixth week inside the bubble, players have been away from their families for nearly 40 days. Those planning on making a long playoff run will expect to be within the NHL bubble for approximately another 30 days. Teams moving on to the Conference Finals from the Eastern Conference will soon make their way to Edmonton, as each of the four remaining clubs will play out of Rogers Arena in Alberta.

In having both hub cities situated in Canada, those living within the Eastern Conference hub city of Toronto (Hotel X: Boston, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, New York Islanders) and the Western Conference’s bubble in Edmonton (JW Marriott: Colorado, Vegas, Dallas, Vancouver) are already ahead of the game, living in a country with significantly better COVID-19 numbers than their southern neighbours in the United States.

Monday’s current COVID-19 bulletins across North America saw 315 new cases in all of Canada while publicizing five new deaths linked to the virus. With 128K total cases (114K of which have recovered), Canada is much below its neighbour in only experiencing just over 9K total deaths throughout the current pandemic. The United States saw 37K new daily cases Monday while reporting 464 new deaths. USA has had over six million total COVID-19 cases to go along with 183K total deaths.

Based on the numbers alone, the NHL’s return-to-play structure, as put together by Winnipeg’s Mark Schiefele, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, Toronto’s John Tavares, Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk and Ottawa’s Ron Hainsey has been the most successful of each of the three North American major sporting returns. With another month left to go before the 2020 Stanley Cup champions are announced, it remains up to the players to maintain the high standards set over the past five weeks, and adhere to appropriate policy moving forward, in order to continue with a successful postseason.

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