Inside The Box: The NHL is right to take tough stance with COVID Protocols

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8). Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Inside The Box is Puck Prose’s brand new daily bulletin, covering all the latest news in the NHL and providing unique analysis and insight, while highlighting the content you need in your lives.

It was always clear that the NHL was going to be at the mercy of COVID-19 throughout the 2020-21 season and, just a week in, so it has proved with the Dallas Stars yet to play a game, the Carolina Hurricanes now having their facility shut down and the Washington Capitals having four players placed on the COVID-19 list.

This is just the harsh reality when you aren’t running operations out of a Bubble environment, as was the case with Major League Baseball who dealt with multiple huge outbreaks before things settled down, and as is the case with the NFL where it seemed a practice facility was shut down every single week.

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Even the NBA who, like the NHL, ran their 2019-20 postseason out of a Bubble, is now having to postpone games left, right and center either out of an abundance of caution or because of a positive test, so it is just a fact of life right now that the pandemic will continue to play havoc with professional sports leagues until a vaccine is rolled out.

We need to get used to seeing reports of practice facilities shut down due to an outbreak, as was the case with the Dallas Stars who had four players and two other team personnel test positive for COVID-19, leading to the league shutting the Stars down and postponing their opening slate of games.

Add the Carolina Hurricanes to that list who had all their games postponed through until at least Saturday after five players were placed on the COVID-19 protocol list on Tuesday. It is important to remember that the NHL doesn’t provide precise reasons for COVID protocol-related absences, so those five players may have just come into close contact with someone who has tested positive rather than have tested positive themselves.

Anyway, it does cause some headaches for the NHL given that the Hurricanes and the Stars are both in the Central Division, so there is already a lot of schedule congestion with the Florida Panthers having only played two games so far this season, while the Stars won’t play their first game of the year until Friday. That’s why the league was so keen to ensure that there was a period of time after the regular-season in which to play out any games that were postponed earlier in the year.

As such, that’s also why I think the NHL was right to come down hard on the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, despite the backlash they have received on social media ever since…

Alex Ovechkin (8)
Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images) /

NHL is right to take a tough stance with Washington over COVID-19 protocols

So, if you missed it, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov were all placed on the NHL’s list of players who were unavailable to practice or play in accordance with the league’s COVID-19 protocols, while the Washington Capitals were slapped with a $100,000 fine for breaching player violations.

Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Orlov and Samsonov were reportedly found to be interacting in one hotel room without face masks during the Capitals’ road trip to open the 2020-21 NHL season. Now, some will argue, and many have, that the players hug on the ice and sit right next to each on the bench during games without face coverings and could spread the virus that way, so what was the big deal about four teammates hanging out together in a hotel room?

Well, I can see it both ways. I can understand why some would find this rule pointless given that those same four players will be in close contact with each other on the ice, in the locker room and on the bench, including Alex Ovechkin’s wife, Nastya, who put out this rather pointed statement out on Instagram.

However, on the flip side, rules are rules and if the NHL don’t come down hard on a guilty party then that could encourage other players to do the same and how would the league then look if an outbreak occurred and it was linked back to players interacting in one hotel room without masks? We’d all be pretty quick to criticise the NHL in that case.

Also, let’s not forget that the players and the NHLPA did agree and then sign off on the rule that “each member of a travelling club is required to stay in a single occupancy room, and no individual shall permit guests or other personnel in their room.”

That rule was signed off on by the players so Ovechkin and his teammates would have been well aware that they were breaking protocol when they were hanging out in one room. So, if they were not happy with that particular rule, why agree to it in the first place?

Again, this is a complicated subject but the fact of the matter is that the COVID-19 Pandemic isn’t getting any better and it is still spreading through the country like wildfire, so the NHL is well within its rights to punish teams and players should they break protocols that was agreed on and then signed off by the NHLPA.

It is that simple.

At the end of the day, there is so much riding on this season and the National Hockey League and Commissioner Gary Bettman should and will do everything within their power to ensure that the 2020-21 season remains protected as possible, so if that means coming down hard on particular parties then so be it.

Rules are rules and they need to be followed, especially during a time when the virus is still wreaking havoc and the players and the NHL both shoulder a larger responsibility this year to not only protect those around them, but to also set a wider example to the general public.

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Three Stars

  1. Alex Pietrangelo scored his first goal for the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, and it was a beauty of a one-timer from the right side. Pietrangelo also tallied an assist and the defenseman now has three points (1 G, 2 A) in four games for the Knights.
  2. Erik Karlsson didn’t record a point in the San Jose Sharks’ 2-1 Shootout win over the St. Louis Blues last night, but he did record over 30 minutes of ice time and looked back to his old self, skating incredibly well and making some key plays in all three zones. It was good to see.
  3. Brock Boeser recorded two goals and one assist for three points as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 in a Shootout on Wednesday night, logging 21:30 minutes of total ice time and scoring the goal that took the game to Overtime and then a Shootout. Boeser has five points (4 G, 1 A) in five games and it has been a very productive start to the year for the talented forward.