The NHL was perhaps too ambitious with its 2021-22 post-pandemic(ish) planning.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reported Tuesday that the NHL and NHLPA are showing concern over the intersection between the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas and 2022 Olympics. As it stands now, the All-Star weekend scheduled for the first weekend of February will immediately precede the Olympic break, meaning that players involved in both — which will of course be a bloated contingent — will board a charter from Las Vegas to Beijing.
Suffice to say, there is every right to be concerned about managing COVID-19 and avoiding an outbreak among the player population to be featured at the Olympics.
According to LeBrun, the solution at current moment is to place considerable restrictions on the all-stars, meaning that Vegas won’t be Vegas, at least that weekend, for all of those involved. Still it seems like the NHL is taking a sizeable gamble with this decision to shoehorn the showcase weekend into such a tight and pivotal window.
Unless each event and obligation takes place behind glass inside a sanitized bubble, the worst-case scenario of COVID-19 being present on the flights from the United States to China is a distinct possibility.
Why the NHL is choosing to do what it hasn’t previous, which is to organize an All-Star weekend in an Olympic year, is both a valid and easily-answerable question.
The NHL is in no position to turn down a massive money-making opportunity coming out of the pandemic, and its new broadcasting partner, ESPN, clearly wants an All-Star Weekend to be part of its early-February programming slate.
If the NHL had it its way, we know it would be a restriction-free, sponsor-pleasing All-Star weekend in Vegas and no Olympic participation. But a promise is a promise. And one was made to the players.
Situations in Ottawa and Long Island are in themselves further evidence that the COVID-19 situation will remain a consideration now and into the future for sports leagues like the NHL, as well as other organizations.
It seems the NHL needed to be reminded of that just this past summer when it was mapping out the schedule and beyond for the 2021-22 season.
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