The NHL is trying to play a truncated 56-game regular season amid the COVID-19 pandemic outside of quarantined bubbles, unlike last summer’s return-to-play postseason, in which the league went three months without any personnel testing positive.
So Friday’s news that the Dallas Stars’ schedule already has been affected, with six players and two staff members testing positive, and a significant portion of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ training camp roster being unable to participate for cautionary reasons did not come as a shock to the Islanders.
"It’s such a fluid situation," defenseman Scott Mayfield said after the Islanders’ fourth day of practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "I think every day is going to bring its challenges. I think we went through that leading into the return to play with the bubble situation. I don’t know if teams got hit as hard as what happened today. But at the same time, we know it’s a possibility.
"It’s definitely not ideal what happened so early, but we kind of knew it was going to happen, not being in a bubble," Mayfield added. "You’ve just got to really just worry about playing. That’s our job."
The NHL said in a news release that it was "reviewing and revising" the Stars’ regular-season schedule and that the team will not open its season any earlier than Jan. 19. The Stars canceled practice Friday and the league said the team’s practice facility will remain closed "for several days while further daily testing and contact tracing is conducted."
The Stars were scheduled to open their season with a three-game Florida road trip against the Panthers on Thursday and Friday and against the Lightning on Jan. 17 before hosting a second Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Lightning on Jan. 19.
"The Stars organization has and will continue to follow all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large as set by the NHL, local state and national agencies," the league said in its statement.
The Blue Jackets announced they had held a "number of players out of today’s scheduled practice out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols."
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, top defenseman Seth Jones and key team members Oliver Bjorkstrand, Maxi Domi and Boone Jenner reportedly were among the 21 players who didn’t skate Friday. The Blue Jackets have 41 players in camp.
Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy said Friday’s news didn’t necessarily make him any more nervous.
"Coming into the season, we know what we’re going to have to deal with," he said. "You look at football and what happened there. You know a team could have all their quarterbacks out, or, like the Saints, have all their running backs out.
"For us, it’s just being diligent and we’ve had conversations as a team about doing everything right and make sure we’re safe. That’s a priority that we want to do, doing it for your teammates and doing your best to keep everyone safe, healthy and not risking anything."
The Islanders, like the 30 other NHL teams, are following the NHL protocols, which means the coaches wear masks on the ice and at all times in the team’s facility. Coach Barry Trotz said meetings are conducted in larger rooms to allow for social distancing. All personnel are tested daily.
"You’ve just got to be careful. You’ve got to be careful with your own families, the people next door," Trotz said. "You trust them because they’re a relative, but you don’t know if they’ve been exposed to someone else."