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NHL/Islanders News: ‘No way we play’

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Positive COVID tests in even a mild early phase cast doubt over the Return To Play plan.

St. Louis Blues v New York Islanders
Uwe Krupp and a future head of NHL Player Discipline in 1991.
Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images

Entering the weekend, the NHL announced that 11 out of over 200 players have tested positive for the coronavirus that has put all of us and the world in this limbo mess.

While in one context that may not seem like a huge deal — we’re in a pandemic, 5% testing positive isn’t...well, actually it’s pretty bad but it’s a small sample that may be influenced by players in regional “hot spots” — it does raise questions inside the NHLPA membership about how this whole Return To Play thing is going to be tolerable when we’re only in “Phase 2.”

At least the league has pledged to announce testing results (not player identities, naturally) weekly as they continue with their attempt to prepare for and hold a Stanley Cup playoff. That seems the minimum they should do to inform their membership at each step.

Absolutely every organization in the world, from your kid’s soccer camp and school district to global corporations who depend on international travel and commerce, is struggling with the multi-faceted moving target of:

  1. what we (think we) know about the virus now and what (think we) might likely know about it three weeks and two months from now, and
  2. what we think we might know about how to create some kind of continuity now and what we think we might be able to do in the name of continuity three weeks and two months from now.

To say nothing of the fall and winter, which feels like an eternity from now.

What I’m saying is it may be quixotic for the NHL to think it can pull off a Stanley Cup tournament in two closely controlled insulated environments, but I can’t exactly fault them for trying, through this phased approach. It’s sort of that “stranded on a desert island” scenario... we’re all stuck here, so what else are we gonna do?

But the players’ perspective? Call it the concerned parent. The Athletic had a pretty deep and damning piece over the weekend, with reactions to the positive tests and an evolving “pulse of the membership” that gives us pause:

“Guys are not happy. This is why we better have a full player vote and not just an executive board vote. But I’m not convinced (NHLPA executive director) Don (Fehr) is going to allow that because he knows there’s so many of us on the fence. That’s why I think the league was trying to be hush-hush on these positive tests.

“In my opinion, no way we play.”

Several NHL player agents surveyed by The Athletic this week indicated that more and more of their players are troubled by the idea of returning to play in a hub city environment. One prominent agent estimated that 35 to 40 percent of players were on the fence.

As that piece goes on to point out, players aren’t just concerned about hits to their income — which would be minimal, at least for this portion of the season. It’s their team staffers, their families, the sanity of trying to pull all this off.

The league and others are considered about long-term effects on the sport — or rather, on their ability to make the kind of massive revenue they were making before March 2020 — but that is an existential question every family, small business, school and industry is facing right now. No one knows how long this will last, how it will shake out, and how life will be completely different afterward.

General News and Reading

  • Lightning to close training facilities after five positive tests [Raw Charge]
  • ‘Guys are not happy’ - How positive tests will impact NHL’s Return To Play [Athletic]
  • The plan: Playoff qualifying rounds begin on July 30 in hub cities that will be selected soon, training camps will begin on July 10, and teams will travel to their respective hub on July 23-24. [Post]
  • Canadian cities are still “in the mix” to be one of the two hubs. [TSN]

Could We Maybe Have Some Fun Isles Things To Discuss Though?

  • Stan Fischler recalls the up and down 1991-92 season, which saw ownership change and a talkative top line but no playoff appearance. [Maven’s Memories - Isles]
  • For needless debate: The top 12 lines in Isles-Smurfs-Devils history. [Post]
  • Belmont this weekend: