Welcome to the Sunday Wrap-up. Since Sunday’s are a rather slow day around these parts (especially when there are no games being played), we’re going to use this space to review some things that happened during the week. Think of it as the modern day hockey version of the old This Week in Baseball show. You remember that show, right? I’m not showing my age here, am I?
Unfit to play
The NHL’s new phrase that pays has popped up all over the place in the first week of Phase III. Due to the confidentiality rules a player could have a sprained ankle or COVID-19 and all the club is allowed to say is that the player is “unfit to play.” Expect the speculation to reach unprecedented levels should a player not appear on the ice for any length of time.
In Boston, it was leading goal scorer David Pastrnak that was declared unfit as the Bruins training camp opened. By the end of the week it was reported that he was in quarantine after associating with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Pastrnak tested negative but has been quarantined since the team found out. However, by Saturday a total of nine players were held out of practice.
So far there only two players (Auston Matthews and Caleb Jones) have confirmed that they tested positive for the virus, and both of them were before the full training camps opened. On the whole, the league has stated that 43 players tested positive during Phase II. Numbers for the current phase have yet to be released by the league.
Several more players have left the ice during practices across the league, including Sidney Crosby. So the speculation will run wild across social media. For a league that’s always been cagey about injuries (out with an “upper body” could mean anything from a hangnail to a missing arm) it’s really just an amplification of the norm.
This will be a big week for the NHL. We’re starting to creep into the fourteen day window before games begin. The worst case scenario for the NHL would be a team (especially a favorite like the Bruins) not being able to make it into The Bubble, so hopefully players being held out of practice is a reflection of teams being overly cautious before heading to their respective hub cities.
According to the Phase IV protocols the traveling parties will need three tests, 48 hours apart, over the seven day period prior to traveling to the hub city. If the Lightning fly into Toronto on the 26th, that seven day period started over the weekend. The league recommends that members of the organization heading to HotelX limit contact with non-family members during that period. Hopefully, that helps prevent any major setbacks.
Bedner blows his top
In Colorado, head coach (and Jack Adams snub) Jerad Bednar felt his team wasn’t getting enough out of their 5v5 practice and exploded with a profanity-laced tirade that if they didn’t pick up the intensity they would be back home golfing sooner rather than later.
With the condensed practice schedule and the enormous stakes at play (and amount of reporters recording with their cell phones) it’s kind of surprising that there haven’t been more screaming coaches caught on video.
It probably didn’t help his mood seeing star rookie Cale Makar skate off the ice before the practice ended. In his virtual presser after the workout, Bednar informed the media that Makar was, you guessed it, “unfit to play”
Fit to play
One of the things that has been kind of surprising, is the lack of players getting injured during the first week. With a long layoff and then a quick ramp up in intensity in practices, one would assume there would be a pulled muscle or two.
The Lightning had just one player leave the ice during the week and that was Cedric Paquette. Scuttlebut from around the rink had him being shook up after the scrimmage on Wednesday. After Thursday’s off day, he missed both Friday and Saturday’s practices. The organization mixed things up and designated him as “unable to practice”.
Granted, some of the players leaving the ice during practice for other teams may have suffered some sort of injury that the league’s nebulous disclosure policy makes it difficult for journalists to confirm, but for the most part it seems everyone came into these camps in shape and ready to go (despite Justin Williams’ tongue-in-cheek assertation to the contrary).
Who’s in net?
In a normal season most teams heading into the postseason have a clear idea of who is their number one netminder. This season, several teams participating in the NHL’s tournament are using these two weeks to figure out who is going to be between the pipes when the puck drops for real in August.
The pause is one reason. No one goalie is going into the playoffs riding a hot streak. The expanded field is another. With eight extra teams participating, the talent level leans a little more to the middle of the pack. The Rangers, a potential upset team for some folks, have three goaltenders to choose from. Do they go with the experienced Henrik Lundqvist? Or choose between the young Russians, Igor Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev?
With a compressed schedule a team that has two strong netminders might benefit. In Dallas, old friend Ben Bishop should see the bulk of play for the Stars. But if the NHL scheduled some back to back games first round of the playoffs (aka the round after the play-in games), the offensively-challenged team can turn to Anton Khudobin who had a strong season as Bishop’s back-up.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who used both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray on their way to the Cup in 2017, might be trying to pull off a similar feat in 2020 as Murray is now the wily veteran who has to split time with the young upstart in Tristan Jarry.
Luckily for Lightning fans there is no such drama in the net. The only time Curtis McElhinney will see the ice will be in pregame warm-ups. You can debate if Andrei Vasilevskiy was a worthy Vezina finalist, but there is no doubt that he is the number one goalie for Tampa Bay.
As if planning a hockey tournament during a pandemic wasn’t enough the league had to deal with an arena in one of the hub cities experiencing a little excessive water in places where water normally doesn’t reside. A fierce summer storm and a few “small leaks” led to a river of water and debris inside Ford Hall at Rogers Place. The good news is that the ice wasn’t affected and everything should be good to go by the time teams start arriving.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal, but it’s most likely a warning from the hockey gods that unexpected things lie ahead over the next few months.
It should be a fun week as teams scramble to get ready for the upcoming playoff spring. The Lightning have a couple of scrimmages scheduled (Monday’s will be streamed on the team’s web site). Hopefully Mr. Stamkos will be a participant in at least one of them and we can get some sort of idea of what the lines will look like. Then, at the end of the week, it’s off to Toronto. Before we know it the games will mean something!