Taking a Shot Before There's a Shot
Despite it all, they are going for it.
The Coronavirus is raging in the United States, where state governors in the south and southwest sent three skaters in and now are more overrun in their own end than the 1974-75 Capitals. There is partying on beaches by persons who believe they have fewer worries than Andrei Vasilevskiy in round 12 when Cristoffer Ehn is the only Red Wing shooter left.
We’re a nation of Brendan Lemieuxs, just can’t help ourselves sometimes. There is less good sense out there than was in a Phil Esposito trade, more willingness to swallow false information than when George Maguire dealt for a Rick Martin on crutches, enough happy horsebleep to fuel a Barons-are-coming-back-to-Cleveland rally. The mask, a scientist-sworn lifesaver, hasn’t been looked on with such disdain since Jacques Plante said he wasn’t going out there again without it or Sam Pollock wore one to rob Guy Lafleur from the Oakland Seals.
Covid19 cases are multiplying faster than a Matt Cooke enemy list. There haven’t been this many good people out of work since five future Hall of Famers got cut from Team Canada in 1987. In all my years never seen anything so chaotic. And I watched the Kansas City Scouts for an entire season.
We’re laughing only to hide our tears. Sports seem about as necessary these days as carrying a ninth defenseman and yet the NHL is going to try to complete not only this season, but has put to a player vote a plan that would cover the next five. Even the smartest guy in every room he’s ever been in, Mike Babcock, never would have conceived of this: Suddenly Gary Bettman and Don Fehr are tighter than the Sedin twins.
Imagine, the virus turning out to be a great healer. It’s amazing really. This bug is a lot more infectious than even Jarome Iginla’s smile, more insidious than Pat Quinn taking an advance check from the Canucks while coaching the Kings, Yet we’re six days from camp openings and less than a month from dropping the puck, with all seemingly on board.
If there is a Cup winner in early October, this will be the greatest high wire act since the Canadiens made it through two rounds with Steve Penney in goal. By all rights, the league should have thrown up its hands at this daunting project faster than Dave Newell at the site of Dave Schultz. But to give us something better to watch on TV than Marriage Boot Camp, there have been more I’s dotted and t’s crossed than in Niittymaki, And as a result even the Coyotes now have a chance.
It’s a bigger miracle than ’80, we’re tellin’ ya. The NHL has found two safe sites not named Antarctica and Mars. The players have agreed to be more locked down than a Jacques Lemaire neutral-zone trap. The league has more phases laid out to this plan–four of them- than there were phases to Jaromir Jagr’s career.
The players will be in the most impenetrable bubble since the Golden Knights through three rounds in ’18. There will be less admittance than even to a Senators’ game. With a protocol calling for five groups of varying access, there haven’t been this many people ruled inessential since Jeff Gorton cleaned house with the Rangers. If you don’t have reason to be in there, you watch on TV. Like with Tim Thomas’s head, nobody gets in. As a special precaution, they are going to hose down Nick Ritchie.
Every player will be left to his own conscience. Fortunately Bryan Marchment has been retired 14 years because he didn’t have one. Nobody has to play if they don’t want to. There’s precedent for that, Doug Crossman even got in 76 games for the 1987-88 Flyers with no desire to be there. But so far there hasn’t been a single opt-out, not even from Columbus. Not a single David Price. In fact, rumor is Pat Price wants to come back and why not?
Temperatures will be taken more relentlessly than Ken Hitchcock met with his captains. There will be even more testing than Mike Keenan did to rookie Scott Mellanby. We’ve read the rules and they are absolute: No talking on elevators, not even to say, “I’m going to get you,” to Tom Wilson. Use of hands on floor buttons is discouraged, which admittedly would have been tough on Brad Marsh, but everybody will get a manual written by Chris Chelios on how to effectively use their elbows. As hotel saunas will be closed, nothing is being left to chance. Tip to fantasy drafters: Lay low on Finns for just this year.
To be allowed to play these guys are going to have to be healthier than Jeff Skinner after a season without going into a corner. If someone tests positive, they will be quarantined for 14 days with Brad Marchand and nobody wants that.
Not going to try to insist there’s no risk. As there’s a lot we still don’t know about this virus, it’s conceivable there could be an outbreak, and we don’t mean of optimism for the Kings anytime soon. It would be a shame to get started and have to shut it down but that’s sort of what the Islanders did this year starting in December and they qualified for the tournament regardless.
Nobody has a playbook for these extraordinary times. But unlike the year the Rangers thought Hardy Astrom was the answer, the league and the players are not going into this blindly. This is a helluva plan, nothing to sneeze at, certainly not when even one sneeze could set off a chain of events making all this for nothing.
So hold your breath – good idea these days for health reasons, too–but we are endorsing this as certainly a much better plan that Terry Pegula seems to have in Buffalo. While we await the completion of trials that will end this nightmare, good for the NHL and its players for taking this shot even before there’s a shot.