NHL adapts COVID-19 approach through 1st month of season

FILE - Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger looks on in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Denver. Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday, feb. 14, 2021 with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called moderately severe symptoms of COVID-19. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)
FILE - Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger looks on in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Denver. Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday, feb. 14, 2021 with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called moderately severe symptoms of COVID-19. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Sabres coach Ralph Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called “moderately severe symptoms” of COVID-19.

“Definitely a time to realize how lethal this COVID is,” the 61-year-old Krueger said, while expressing relief his wife hasn’t been infected. “I’m feeling quite well but, of course, scarred by the experience.”

The first month of the NHL's pandemic-shortened season has been a bumpy one. The Sabres are among eight teams that paused their seasons, and 35 games have been postponed. From Jan. 13 through Saturday, 120 players from 26 of 31 teams have spent at least one day on the COVID-19 list. Some tested positive, others were identified as close contacts and a few had to quarantine after traveling from another country.

Buffalo is set to return from a 15-day break by hosting the New York Islanders on Monday. The Colorado Avalanche resumed play at Vegas on Sunday. Minnesota and New Jersey are scheduled to return Tuesday, while the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently have seven players on the NHL COVID-19 list, are on pause until at least Thursday.

The NHL completed last season's playoffs in tightly secured bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. Without those, outbreaks were considered inevitable.

“This is the new normal, unfortunately,” Golden Knights forward Mark Stone said. “I think you’re a little bit naïve to think we were going to go through a whole season without one guy testing positive. I think now we’re learning as a group and as a league.”

The NBA had a three-week head start on the NHL, and after an initial rash of postponements and more than 20 positive cases, the NBA has had just 13 players test positive since the NHL began play.

What’s in question is how quickly the NHL addressed concerns before enhancing its safety protocols twice over the past two weeks, including the introduction of game-day rapid testing for players, staff and on-ice officials.