The NHL really needs to be asked and answer what kind of product it’s offering fans right now. It isn’t just the 60 players in COVID protocol at the moment. It’s the fact that the league does not make any exception to the salary cap for teams that are stripped of a chunk of their roster due to COVID. Which has left far too many teams having to skate short of a normal fill of players thanks to the amount they have to go without due to positive tests and the inability to replace them from their minor-league teams.
The Bruins had 17 skaters (instead of the usual 18) last night, and not for the first time. The Hurricanes had 16 as did the Panthers and Avalanche. The Flames couldn’t even play. This isn’t even getting through a schedule. It’s not really real.
The logical step here is to pause the season, if only for a week or two, to see how all these positive tests play out, to see if anyone gets truly sick, and to let players clear protocols while removing the chance that they can spread it to more teammates and staff.
But the NHL won’t get to that step without some sort of disaster it seems. Games around the holidays are some of the best attended in a lot of markets. They’re going to get that cash after missing out on it last year.
If the league won’t hit pause, and it’s got an Olympic break it almost certainly isn’t going to use to make up games, then allowing teams to at least put a full team on the ice doesn’t seem a huge step.
Perhaps they’re worried about the system being gamed, but it’s hard to see how that would happen. Teams have played shorthanded in seasons past thanks to cap constraints, but that’s due to mismanagement. This is life in a pandemic, and if the NHL is going to insist on plowing through, profits above all, it needs to change the rules so teams can at least put something close to a finished product out there. Asking fans to watch this isn’t really fair to anyone.