Every professional sports league has had to adjust the way they operate because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but none have been forced to make as many changes as the NHL. The biggest hurdle was finding a way to start the season when nearly a quarter of the league’s teams play in Canada. The professional hockey league created an effective plan in the offseason, and they continue to push through all of the difficulties that have arrived during the season.
With the Canadian teams unable to cross the border without a lengthy quarantine, the NHL was forced to realign all of the divisions. Every team was placed in a division based on their geographic region. To reduce travel, teams are only playing teams in their new division this season. This has created some interesting rivalries that we have never seen before.
The vast majority of teams in the NHL have experienced a break related to virus issues. Once a team has a player test positive for the virus, they must cancel their upcoming games until everyone recovers. This one positive test impacts multiple teams as games get canceled. This is forcing healthy teams to go several days without playing a meaningful game.
With so many games getting canceled around the league, the NHL has essentially created a schedule on the fly. This is easily the biggest challenge created by COVID-19. The league continuously adjusts the schedule to ensure the healthy teams can play as many games as possible. The biggest example of this is when the St. Louis Blues and Arizona Coyotes played seven games in a row while their previously scheduled opponents dealt with positive tests.
New Playoff Format
The NHL has also had to change the way the playoffs are played this season completely. The four teams in each division will play in their own miniature playoff bracket. The surviving teams advance to the semifinal round, where the teams will be seeded based on winning percentage. This new format can potentially create an interesting Stanley Cup matchup between bitter rivals that we will never see again. A Stanley Cup final featuring Boston and Montreal would be something extraordinary.