The NHL isn’t dealing with anything the other leagues haven’t already. On a day when the NBA had to postpone its sixth straight game for the Wizards, the NHL took the MLB route and pinned the blame on the players. Four Capital players were placed on the COVID unavailable list — Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Samsonov, Evgeni Kuznetsov, and Dmitry Orlov. They apparently hung out in someone’s hotel room together maskless instead of staying in the pods of their own rooms.
The NHL also fined the team $100,000 which is definitely an amount a professional sports team is going to notice. Ovechkin was even goaded into eschewing an apology, which seems kind of silly.
And the reason it’s silly is because this is hockey. Even if they weren’t hanging out in someone’s hotel room, and with this “series” type scheduling, these guys are spending multiple days in a room by themselves which sucks for anyone, they’re in dressing rooms together. They’re on benches together in the sweatiest sport this side of fencing. They’re sitting on the bench after shifts breathing hard because sprinting on skates for 40 seconds to a minute straight is really hard to do and really tiring!
These are also guys tested multiple times a week, who are at least in theory keeping an eye on themselves away from the rink. And teammates would know who is and who isn’t following the rules. If these guys just wanted to watch Cobra Kai together, you can see where they felt like they were in a safezone to do so.
Sure, hanging out maskless in a hotel room with three other guys increases exposure, but how much does it increase the chance of transmission, given what hockey involves on a day-to-day basis? This feels more like the NHL getting to put on a discipline show for the public, trying to reassure everyone they’re doing everything they can to keep things safe. But they aren’t safe. Going to the store isn’t safe. It’s necessary, which hockey isn’t, but neither can be conducted in a way where safety can be guaranteed.
That doesn’t mean the players should be allowed to just do whatever, and protocols should be in place. But these teams are supposed to be bubbles onto themselves, and it feels like the Caps are being held up as an example of the NHL putting out a grease-fire to prove they can, when they couldn’t do anything about much bigger fires with the Carolina Hurricanes or Dallas Stars. There were positive tests there, and the NHL can’t blame anyone for that. That horse is out of the barn, to mix metaphors in inelegant fashion.
The schedule is already a mess. The Stars aren’t even out of the gate yet. The Panthers have played two games, and won’t play again until next week. They’ll have four games to make up, except they only have one three-day stretch without a game scheduled for the rest of the season, as it was. Are they going to play three-in-three? Will some other team’s schedule have to be jumbled to avoid that? Four in five? Six in eight? That will fuck up the series-scheduling the NHL was going for to lessen travel time in airports and hotels. But no matter what, it’s going to be something ridiculous.
But this is what the NHL and its players took on by playing in a pandemic. This is what it looks like.
Let’s balance that out with sports versions of the meme that ran wild yesterday: