The impact of COVID-19 on national hockey league players' return to play

Phys Sportsmed. 2023 Feb 9;1-5. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2023.2177080. Online ahead of print.


Objective: Evaluate the on-ice performance and return to play (RTP) rate following COVID-19 for National Hockey League (NHL) players during the 2020-21 season.

Methods: Players with COVID-19 during the abbreviated 2020-21 season were identified using publicly accessible online sources. Demographics and on-ice metrics were accessed using the NHL's online statistics website. The length of time, rate of RTP, and games missed due to COVID-19 were analyzed. Primary outcomes included average time on ice (TOI) per game (TOI/G), average TOI per shift (TOI/S), and points per game (PPG) compared at different timepoints including pre- and post-COVID-19.

Results: A total of 73 players (47 forwards, 18 defensemen, 8 goalies) had a documented COVID-19 diagnosis during the abbreviated 2020-21 season. Players missed an average of 5.6 games (14.7 days) due to COVID-19. The post-COVID-19 RTP rate was 97.3%, including playoffs. No differences were found in TOI/G between the pre- (15.7 ± 3.9 min) and post-COVID-19 (15.8 ± 3.4 min, p = 0.874) or in the first (15.8 ± 4.0 min) and second week (15.9 ± 3.8 min, p = 0.925) returned. TOI/shift did not change from pre- (45.6 ± 5.3 sec) to post-COVID-19 (46.7 ± 4.6 sec, p = 0.035) or in first (46.2 ± 5.4 sec) and second week post-COVID-19 (46.2 ± 4.8 sec, p = .854). No differences were identified for PPG between career, pre-COVID-19, and post-COVID-19 (0.44 vs 0.38 vs 0.41; p = 0.274).

Conclusion: RTP post-COVID was markedly high for NHL players. While the effects of COVID-19 on specific physiological measures remains to be elucidated, this study found NHL players do not have reduced performance following COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; NHL; SARS-CoV-2; hockey; return to play.