Across the continent today, NHL training camps are opening before the league’s restart on August 1 in Edmonton and Toronto. And considering the time and places we live, it’s going about as you’d expect.
The Athletic reported this morning that at least three Montreal Canadiens players have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days or the intake process for full training camp, known as “Phase 3.” The Penguins have voluntarily sidelined nine players from the opening of their camp today because of a secondary exposure of an individual to someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus. Which means someone within the team has been around someone who tested positive and then was around other people with the team.
This comes after both Tampa Bay and St. Louis had to completely close their facilities during Phase 2’s voluntary workouts due to outbreaks of positive tests with those teams.
The NHL’s borderline-draconian limits on identifying publicly who has tested positive makes this tricky to suss out. The NHL has a rule that all information regarding the virus will be kept private and anonymous unless the player gives permission to release the information. So we don’t know who the three players on the Canadiens are, whether they’d been in Montreal the whole time or had flown in recently and served out a quarantine. Same deal in Pittsburgh, where we don’t know who’s been isolated and who is the one who has been exposed to the virus and whether or not that person is a player or tested positive.
It makes for awkward reading in Pittsburgh though, as it was just two days ago that Rob Rossi of The Athletic wrote this on the Penguins returning to camp. Within that article is a tidbit about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin pushing teammates to return to Pittsburgh and play through the pandemic. Crosby himself had been running the practices.
And this is the problem in hockey. While there have been a handful of opt-outs, the pressure to “play through it no matter what” is going to force more than a few players to put some serious reservations aside and play. It’s hard to envision how a younger player, or one with less clout than Crosby or Malkin (which is just about every player in the league), is going to go against the wishes and urging of those Pittsburgh institutions. There’s no connection (yet) between the driving forces of Malkin and Crosby and the precautions taken today, and they may not matter if none of these individuals test positive. But down the line, a player is going to test positive that might not have wanted to be there in the first place, but felt he had no choice. Hockey and peer pressure dictated so.
So far, the NHL has run 4,439 tests and had 30 come up positive, along with a further 13 that tested positive outside of Phase 2 protocols. That’s less than a 1 percent positivity-rate, which is encouraging. But on a different scale, those 43 players testing positive came from a group of over 600 players, per the NHL’s statement. That’s a rate of 7 percent, which is not encouraging. Pick whichever lane you like.
Still, that’s two teams that have seen a chunk of players have to be removed for at least half of this abbreviated training camp before heading out to play on Aug. 1. With 24 teams still in their home cities, it remains an honor-system that players are only going from home to the team’s practice facility and back.
Expect more of this in the coming days.