The past 24 hours have been a major challenge in regards to sports leagues resuming play in 2020. And now one of hockey's biggest stars is faced with a serious obstacle.
According to the Toronto Sun, Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has tested positive for COVID-19. This is the first time we have heard a specific name linked to a positive test, after the Colorado Avalanche, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins all confirmed positive cases to players without disclosing any names.
Matthews, a native of Arizona, had reportedly been skating with other NHL players at Arizona State's ice facility since the league was put on pause. Under Phase 2 of the NHL's Return To Play plan, players are able to take part in voluntary individualized workouts at team facilities in groups of up to six. Matthews' positive test result now calls into question whether the July 10th date that the NHL set for Phase 3, formal team training camps, remains feasible.
As Patrick Kane cautioned last week, there are still a number of obstacles that the NHL and the Players' Association need to overcome before they can resume play under the new 24-team format. With COVID cases spiking in states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, question marks will continue to arise about player safety and the protocols the NHL will have if a player tests positive in further phases of the Return To Play plan.
The league is expected to announce some time next week the two hub cities that will host the play-in and round robin games, as well as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A number of factors will determine which two cities are selected, and Chicago is reportedly a front-runner along with Las Vegas, but decreasing COVID cases should be at or near the top of the list.
Earlier Friday, an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Philadelphia Phillies MLB camp in Clearwater, FL resulted in eight positive cases and the closing of the facility. Later in the day, the Tampa Bay Lightning closed their facility after a number of positive test results as well. Then, The Athletic reported there were more positive cases around the league, leading to the latest report with one of the NHL's biggest names.
On Thursday, the Toronto Blue Jays shut down their spring training facility in Dunedin, which is near Clearwater, after a player exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.