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How can NHL — or any pro league — come back this summer?

The resurgence of positive coronavirus cases in the United States makes it hard to envision the return of sports.

Boston Bruins v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Six Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Apologies in advance: this article is not going to inspire much optimism.

I must preface everything below by stating I am no epidemiologist and have no medical degree, and I won’t make any claims of having any special knowledge in those areas.

Because of that, I tend to stick with the facts regarding this situation. And as I look at facts that have emerged within the last week regarding the possible resumption of sports in the United States, I’m struggling to find optimism that those plans will come to fruition.

While Illinois and many other states in the Midwest are seeing a downward trend in the number of positive coronavirus cases, states across the southern and western portions of the country are trending up as the country’s overall number of cases resumes the upward trend it was experiencing in the spring.

With many of the NHL’s teams in those areas of increasing positive cases, it was no surprise to see some of the League’s teams and players become part of the coronavirus news cycle:

  • Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Three Lightning players tested positive, forcing the team to close its facilities.
  • Those players may or may not have been in the group of 11 players who tested positive, according to a statement from the NHL last Friday.

Outside of hockey but elsewhere in the US sports world, other leagues are facing similar issues, especially in college football, which has started summer workout programs:

Look at all of those reports, the widespread increases in positive coronavirus cases throughout cities and states where NHL teams and players currently reside, add it all together, and ask yourself this question:

How in the hell is the NHL going to have 24 teams ready for games in just over a month?

The league’s potential answer, for the moment, is apparently to move the entire league north of the border, into cities and provinces within Canada that have lower coronavirus numbers than their counterparts in the US.

But, as Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane mentioned to the media last week, the health risks won’t disappear based on game location.

“And if that happens and we come back and we’re able to play, I think everyone is all for that. You guys know me, I love hockey. I love playing the game. I want to play hockey. But you want it to be fair for the players, too. It’s uncharted territory with a situation like this, guys coming from Canada, Europe. What if someone gets sick? Things like that. We just want to keep our eye on the ball here and make sure we get a fair deal. And we’d be ecstatic to come back and play hockey and help grow the game and gain new fans, especially at a time like this. It’s a great time to grow the game and gain some hockey fans. People are starving for sports. We’d love to be able to give that to them. But we want it to be fair.”

I hope hockey comes back. Same goes for football and baseball and soccer and every other sport in this country. But it has to be the done at the right place at the right time and in the right way.

Given the news of the last week, though, that right place, time and way may not exist.