The NHL has detected a handful of positive COVID-19 tests since welcoming players back to practice facilities at the beginning of last week.
On Friday afternoon, the league revealed that 11 players have tested positive for the virus after completing coronavirus examinations on in excess of 200 players since June 8. The players who have turned in a positive test have been instructed to self-isolate and continue following public health guidelines before safely returning to team activities.
The league says it will provide updates on the number of tests administered and the results of its testing on a weekly basis, but will not provide specifics with respect to which players test positive and which teams those players belong to.
Just hours before the league released this first round of data, Postmedia’s Steve Simmons reported that Toronto Maple Leafs star centre Auston Matthews turned in a positive test for the coronavirus while living and training at his home in Arizona.
The Maple Leafs have since released this statement, as relayed by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston:
In addition to the 11 players left unnamed in the league’s Friday afternoon release, there have been a number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus among the NHL population. Both the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators revealed that players and staff members had contracted the virus at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, while the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down their practice facility temporarily Friday after three players tested positive as well.
In all cases previous to Simmons’ report on Matthews, not a single player was identified publicly.
There had been rumours circulating prior to Simmons’ reports that there were positive cases among the population of NHL players training in Arizona — one of several states that have seen massive spikes in confirmed COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Matthews’ teammate, Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen, was living and training with Matthews up until recently, but has since shifted his home base to California. According to Simmons, Andersen submitted a negative result with his coronavirus testing.
A large contingent of Maple Leafs players returned to Toronto for Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play process, and the re-opening of practice facilities for voluntary workouts. Matthews and Andersen were not required to return and instead chose to remain in Arizona, likely to avoid the mandated 14-day quarantine period associated with crossing into Canada.
This obvious lack of control for the league and its teams represents a significant issue. And while this first collection of confirmed COVID-19 cases likely won’t deter the NHL and its plans to restart the season, the next few weeks seem critical.
Because the players will remain outside an arm’s reach of the league, and can act as they wish within society and outside the bubbles that will be required to restart the season, the NHL is simply relying on players to protect themselves. And with certain regions failing to curb the spread of the virus, it may be difficult for some players to do so, while also seeking the training required to be ready for the season’s restart.
More NHL coverage on Yahoo Sports