The NHL produced flawless results with its twin-bubble playoff format over the summer. There were precisely zero positive tests for COVID-19, and the highly contested Stanley Cup was awarded in September.
However, that same formula to completely isolate players likely won't be an option for the next season to begin in early 2021.
“I don’t think anybody is signing up to do another 60 days or anything extended like that,” new Sharks goalie Devan Dubnyk told NBC Sports California. “It’s really tough.”
Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild briefly experienced bubble life in the NHL's Edmonton hub. The Wild arrived in late July, but they were eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in Game 4 of a best-of-five play-in series on Aug. 7.
For NHL players and staff, the commitment to resuming the season meant separating from family anywhere from two weeks to two months. Even the longest "regular" road trips in hockey rarely last a dozen days.
“And that was the hardest part,” said Dubnyk. “Because there was no way of knowing.”
The NHL faces a bigger challenge in the present, needing to execute a longer season that's potentially in the range of 40 to 50 games for all 31 teams, plus the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Having experienced it for only a brief time, Dubnyk knows sustaining that kind of isolation for upwards of six straight months isn’t a realistic option.
“I don’t think guys will want to do that, or should be put in a position to do that,” Dubnyk said. “No other sport is, and it’s not necessary to do that. It’s not what we signed up for, and not what anybody is really prepared to do. There’s so many players with young families, that’s just really hard.”
MLB's 60-game regular season offers a realistic example for the NHL. Geographical realignment of the schedule proved favorable, and everyone was able to sleep in their own beds during homestands.
However, multiple teams endured COVID-19 outbreaks and positive tests early in the season, and re-scheduling postponed games during doubleheaders allowed MLB to complete the season. That's an option the NHL definitely won't have up its sleeve.