Opinion: The Safest Way For the Toronto Maple Leafs to Return

Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The NHL must change course if the Toronto Maple Leafs are to return.

The NHL’s Return-To-Play plan has seemingly started to go off the rails less than two weeks into Phase 2 of the four-step proposal. With the news that several players, including Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews, have tested positive for covid, many are questioning if the NHL should even proceed with the return plan.

Personally, I’m of two minds about it. Like everyone, I desperately want hockey to come back, and to see the Toronto Maple Leafs participate in the hardest to win playoff tournament in the history of the NHL.  At the same time, I find myself wondering if the plan is truly as safe as the NHL could make it.

While it’s probably in the best interest of everyone involved to cancel the entire plan and look forward to the next season, whenever it begins, the league is still planning on moving forward.

As of the time of writing this, (most of) the players still want to play, and the league obviously wants to recoup some of the lost revenue from an incomplete season.

The next regular season probably won’t start until they can get fans back in the arena anyway, and who knows how long it’ll take for society to get to that point, particularly in the United States, where gross incompetence by the president and his advisers have allowed COVID-19 to run rampant.

I previously wrote about a “safe” way to resume the season back before the Return to Play plan was announced, and admittedly, I went a little overboard with my thinking.

One thing I did not note in that previous piece, however, is that I am someone with a genetic respiratory disorder that, while not life-threatening on its own, would certainly become that if I were to contract COVID-19.

I’ve been taking every precaution I possibly could have ever since the virus first started to spread in my area. I’m probably being overcautious, but in this day and age, I believe that is the best way to survive, and the NHL should follow suit.

A Safer Return to Play Plan

In lieu of a vaccine being finalized and mass-distributed, these are the steps I believe the NHL should follow that will permit the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the 23 other qualifying teams, to return to play in the safest way imaginable:

  1. Effective immediately, all players and team staff must re-enter self-isolation/lockdown, with the lone exception being that the players who are in relatively safer cities (Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver for example) still can go to their Phase 2 informal skating sessions in small groups
  2. The NHL will finalize and announce the two hub cities (preferably both in Canada) and immediately begin negotiations with hotels who can guarantee safe lodging for everyone involved.
  3. The teams travel to the hub cities as soon as safety is assured and they commence Phase 3 (training camp) as soon as all players and staff clear the initial round of viral testing. Additional testing is done twice weekly.
  4. The hotels, arena, and practice facilities are designated as “bubble sites”, no one in or out once the process begins. Hotel staff, drivers, broadcast operators, and arena and ice maintenance crews are tested just as often as the players and team staff, and they will all also reside at the hotel(s) for the entire process, with a hefty financial compensation to ensure their compliance with the lockdown rule.
  5. All food is prepared on-site, any deliveries of supplies for the kitchen are sanitized before being brought into the bubble.
  6. Should a player or staff member contract COVID-19, the tournament is paused until the source of the new infection is found and contained. Should that investigation turn out that the source is traced back to a member of a team due to negligence and flaunting of the lockdown rules, his entire team is disqualified from the tournament, no exceptions.
  7. After the play-in round and playoff round one are complete, exceptions can be made for a limited number of family members of players, team staff, or support staff to join the bubble, provided they agree to the lockdown rule and testing protocol and test negative prior to being permitted into the bubble.

Next. Leafs Players Who Will Benefit Most From Break. dark

Not to be lost in all of this is this fact: we don’t know the long-term effects COVID-19 have on the body, so  an overcautious approach is the best one to take to ensure the safety of everyone.