This past weekend for the New York Post, Larry Brooks wrote a very wonderful and insightful article about the current status of the NHL and their attempts to return to finish the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup. An ill-advised one I might add.
In Brooks’ article he breaks down many topics in regards to restarting the League that most people continue to overlook. While it’s all fine and dandy to hear about plans for what they could do to restart the league to get the games in, it’s all still a logistical nightmare when you get right down to it. We’ve learned through Brooks that the NHL and NHLPA has created a Return to Play Committee that features Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, and Steve Hatze Petros representing the NHL, while Don Fehr, Mathieu Schneider, general counsel Don Zavelo, division rep Steve Webb, and active players John Tavares, Connor McDavid, James van Riemsdyk, Mark Scheifele, and Ron Hainsey representingthe NHLPA. Medical advisors from both the league and union are included in the calls when appropriate.
Per Brooks, the discussions between the two sides have not honed in on details as much as concepts. These details not only will determine whether the NHL can develop a pragmatic plan in the midst of this pandemic, but most importantly will the players actually agree to it? The NHL’s credibility is going to be on the line if they decide to resume play, and we’re not just talking about with the players, but with the public as well. There is a strong possibility that if the NHL were to come back we could see multiple players having to be replaced by AHL call-ups from the expanded 30-man rosters after testing positive? If the answer to this is yes, and I would expect this to happen as well, then the NHL will have an extremely difficult task of putting out a credible product.
Now we can talk about host cities for these games, but that conversation has been beaten to death, and quite frankly, not worth talking about because when New York City, Los Angeles, the province of Alberta, and countless other cities and states/provinces announcing that sporting events will not be happening until the fall or even in 2021. So this challenge isn’t worth talking about anymore.
The real challenge is guaranteeing the player’s health. One thing that had not truly been mentioned until Brooks’ article is about the fact there are many players that have underlying medical conditions that involve them having compromised autoimmune systems. Greatest example, Brian Boyle of the Florida Panthers. Boyle, who was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia in 2017, and has been in full remission since October 2018. Boyle’s autoimmune system is compromised as a result, and is more at risk of catching the virus. As a comparable to this would be Roman Reigns of the WWE. Reigns had his leukemia return in late 2018, and go back into remission earlier last year. During this pandemic after doing a couple tv tapings of SmackDown, Reigns ultimately bowed out of WrestleMania and his match with Goldberg. Reigns has not been on television since, and won’t be until he deems it safe to be back to work and wrestling again. This is the exact same thing that many players, including Boyle, are going to be doing. They’re going to put their health over playing the game.
Another player, or group of players in this instance, that we could see decide to sit out due to their underlying medical conditions are Kaapo Kakko (NYR – Type 1 Diabetes), Max Domi (MON – Type 1 Diabetes), and Luke Kunin (MIN – Type 1 Diabetes). The reason we could see players like this sit out is because according to the American Diabetes Association individuals with Type 1 Diabetes are not more susceptible to contracting COVID-19, but are more likely to face worse outcomes if they do contract it. Another great comparable would be that of Kyle O’Reilly of the Undisputed Era in WWE. O’Reilly has Type 1 Diabetes and has elected to stay at home and wait out the pandemic. Plus there are many more players with autoimmune issues, and needs to be the number one issue that the Player’s Association needs to address, otherwise there will be bigger issues if they don’t and they proceed with restarting the season.
Now imagine that the NHL resumes and players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Zdeno Chara, and other top players test positive. You now effectively lost some of the top players in the game for a minnimum of two weeks, and negatively affects what would be an already flawed product since everyone wouldn’t be in top game form. This is going to be a disaster, and the NHL and the NHLPA needs to focus on the 2020-21 season, which won’t start on time and will have challenges in and of itself to take place as well, and on the future because there is too much to risk, and marks the one time for the game of hockey that it could literally become a life and death proposition.
Now many people are going to bemoan this, but the reality is this. Yes, while we all need distractions during this time, we shouldn’t be having to risk other people’s health and lives for the sake of our entertainment. It’s selfish to think soley about ourselves and not about the players and their families, because they would be affected by this too. As of this morning (9a ET) the United States has 986 thousand confirmed cases with 109 thousand recovered, and over 55 thousand deaths. That number is still going to go up, and sequestering players, staff, and personnel in hotels for months for the sake of our entertainment is not the wisest at this time.
I’ve accepted that the 2019-20 season is over. It’s time everyone else should too, and look to the future and tackle this pandemic so we can have some form of normalcy again.
“NHL restart plans intensify with player health concerns at forefront” by Larry Brooks (New York Post)