All services have been closed to the public at Edmonton’s Misericordia Hospital after a COVID-19 outbreak left 20 patients and 15 staff members infected, per Nicole Bergot of the Edmonton Journal. Edmonton, of course, is prepared to be one of the NHL’s hub cities as play resumes on August 1.
The NHL and NHLPA have seemingly put together an amazing week of work to find common ground in the hopes of returning to play – and as of right now, this outbreak doesn’t change the NHL’s plans, per Jason Kay of the Hockey News. These playoffs – should they happen – will be unlike anything the NHL has orchestrated in recent years.
To briefly recap: the 5 through 12 seeds in each conference are preparing for head-to-head five-game series on neutral ice that will determine the final four playoff competitors in each conference. Though the stakes are as high or maybe higher than a traditional NHL playoff series, the scope and logistics are much different.
For starters, there’s the simple fact that after a long layoff, players are jumping right into an elimination round. They are trying to work themselves back into game shape in the most unique environment they’ve likely ever played. Facing potential separation from their families and the constant fear of contracting coronavirus, the “it’s only a game” idiom no longer holds true. On the other hand, assuming most players can “get back to it” without setbacks – a huge assumption – it’s the same game these players have played their entire lives.
Still, to jump right into a five-game elimination round (as opposed to the typical seven-game playoff) could set the stage for even more parity than in most years. Not only will teams have less room for error, but top seeds have lost the advantage of home ice. Broadly-speaking, this lowers their probability of surviving any given game from 55 percent to an even 50-50 split, per TSN’s Travis Yost.
The Edmonton Oilers are one of two squads who will get to play on their home ice. And while there won’t be any fans allowed in the stadium, the organization is still exploring ways to capture a modicum of home-ice advantage elsewhere in the city, writes Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun. Given the risks of gathering any large crowds, it’s hard to imagine the Oilers pulling this off in any substantive way – especially after news of this most recent outbreak.
Still, coronavirus isn’t going away, and outbreaks of some variety are to be expected. If Edmonton gets a handle on this situation, it might provide the league with even more confidence in its viability as a hub city.