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Anti-Vaxxers, Eichel surgery may open door to more player rights

October 22, 2021, 7:29 PM ET [1 Comments]
Kevin Allen
Blogger •HHOF Writer's column on the NHL • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Tomorrow the Detroit Red Wings will play the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal and their leading goal scorer, the healthy Tyler Bertuzzi, will be sitting on his home watching them on television.

He chose not to vaccinate against Covid-19. Because of that decision, his home country, Canada, won't allow him to cross its borders to play in that game.

His absence is not insignificant. In addition to his goal scoring, he is often the source of his team's emotion and energy. He's also very popular with teammates. The team captain Dylan Larkin, one of Bertuzzi's good friends, said he has talked at length with Bertuzzi about the issue and respects his decision.

Bertuzzi has never explained why he chose not to vaccinate. He said simply that it was "a personal choice."

As Bertuzzi starts to sit out games, it occurs to me how much the NHL has changed with regard to players' personal freedoms, their ability to make decisions that may not be in the team's best interest.

I do a podcast with former NHL defenseman Tom Laidlaw. He played in the 1980s. I asked him if he would have considered doing what Bertuzzi did? He said he wouldn't. It was all about the team for him. He wouldn't want to miss games. Does he think any of his teammates would done what Bertuzzi is doing. "No," he said.

Laidlaw explained to me that the hockey culture was different back then. For example, even in the 1980s, it was not acceptable for players to leave the team for the birth of a child. He told me a story about a star player harassing a player for wanting to do that.

Today, it's hard to imagine that went on. Today, players takes leaves for dealing with all manner of family issues. That's the way it should be.

As we've seen with Carey Price, players have a program that can help them deal with all manner of issues. Nobody factors in whether his absence is going to negatively impact the team. That's a good thing.

Nobody thinks twice about it because it's the right way to treat people.

We still have the NHL tradition of playing through injuries, which involves players making decision about their bodies. But ny observation is players, in general, are better educated about their medical issues and most, not all, make smarter decisions.

There's still more work to be done, particularly with regard to concussions. But players definitely question more than they have in the past. And that's definitely a positive development.

That brings us back to Bertuzzi. His situation is more complicated because his decision not only impacts his health, but potentially the health of others. We all have our opinions about whether a person should consider his or her community when they decide whether to vaccinate.

I say 'yes.' Maybe you say 'no.' Seems to me we all debated that last month when we found out Bertuzzi wasn't vaccinated.

But the side issue is Bertuzzi is able to say 'no' and have no consequences with his team or league. That's interesting because companies can legally demand employees be vaccinated. Bertuzzi does have to endure some stricter living arrangements on the road. But the decision about no game in Canada is governmental decision. The NHL isn't stopping him from playing.

My wonder is whether this vaccination issue might open the door even wider for more personal freedoms when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. Another player medical issue has also gained some notoriety this season.

Most people were surprised to learn that the Buffalo Sabres can tell Jack Eichel what medical treatment he should receive for his injury. It is spelled out clearly that Eichel can seek a second opinion, but the Sabres have the final say.

I would think most of us would believe that every person should be able to make their own medical decisions. It will be interesting to see if these Bertuzzi and Eichel medical issues change the player freedoms landscape moving forward.
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