The NHL remains in Phase II of their return to play protocol, in which players are allowed to work out in small groups at team facilities in preparation for full training camps which are expected to start next month. On Friday, however, news came out that three players and two staffers of the Tampa Bay Lightning tested positive for COVID-19. Later that afternoon, it was reported that Toronto star Auston Matthews had also tested positive, making him the highest profile player in the league diagnosed so far. He had been working out at the Coyotes’ facility in his home state of Arizona. It should be noted that Florida and Arizona are both among the states with the most new cases over the last week.
This obviously puts the NHL in a tough position. There are huge financial costs to cancelling the proposed resumption of the season, but what health costs are they willing to incur? How many players would have to test positive to bring the entire process to a halt? Athletes in peak physical condition are less at risk than other portions of the population, but they may still have lingering lung or blood issues - those long term impacts of the virus are still unknown. Even if any of them remain asymptomatic, they could still infect their families or members of the team staffs (like coaches) who are older or have medical conditions that make them at risk.
On the other hand, it stands to reason that players would be more exposed now when they have contact with the general public. In theory, once training camp starts they will be contained and will have limited contact with those outside their bubble. But can that be airtight enough? What happens if they are allowed to have contact with their families, who are not subject to the same restrictions? What if they are exposed due to hotel or arena staff? They said they would consider the number of COVID cases when picking hub cities - will that become the most important factor?
There’s a lot still to figure out, as international players begin making their way back to their team cities to quarantine in advance of training camp. Stay tuned.
The week that was
It was video game week at SB Nation, and while it’s been awhile since I’ve regularly played video games I have to agree with this take from Copper and Blue about the greatness of EA Sports NHL 94. I would play that for hours on end on my Sega Genesis. I had a long rivalry with my older brother, and we’d play every time I visited him. He’d always beat me, until one day circa 2000 when I finally had a late lead on him. Then his toddler son walked up and pressed the power button on the system. We never played again after that. (I still count it as a win)
That game also led to this classic clip from Swingers, which I think perfectly captures what it’s like when a group of friends hangs out and plays video games together:
We talked about sports video games on the Cannon Cast, and also about ways in which the NHL can keep fans engaged when play resumes, even though they can’t be in the arena.
Ballots have been submitted for the various NHL awards, so we made our case for which Blue Jackets figures deserve award consideration:
- Nick Foligno for the Selke Trophy, for outstanding defensive forward
- John Tortorella for Jack Adams, for the best coach
- Elvis Merzlikins for the Calder Trophy, for the rookie of the year
Rachel wrote a must-read piece about the response of the league and its players to the protests occurring around the world this month.
Elaine’s latest Throwback Thursday post features an interview with former Cleveland captain Ryan Craig as the Monsters began their title defense in 2016.
Play me out
Happy belated Father’s Day!