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Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hard Pass

Ryan Rishaug of TSN has been doing some solid reporting during this COVID-19 pandemic about what measures it might take to get the Edmonton Oilers and the NHL back on the ice, including talks between the Oilers and the province of Alberta about establishing protocols for testing and mitigating risk.

On Monday, Rishaug did what he characterized as some “blue-skying” about what it might take to get the NHL back on ice after talking to an infectious disease expert about potential tweaks and changes to the game during the pandemic. Interesting stuff. It certainly grabbed my attention. Likely yours too.

From Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug):

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Blue-Skying some potential tweaks to the game with a medical expert to allow play during a pandemic.  See below for a few ideas and a quote from Bill Daly on the NHL’s willingness to entertain potential changes.

Here’s what the doctor came up with:

  • Full face shields – potentially modified to reduce the spread of droplets even further.
  • No fighting allowed.
  • No scrums after whistles for linesmen to have to break up.
  • Coaches social distanced and wearing face masks on the bench.
  • Wingers to maintain two feet of distance on face-offs instead of the traditional crossing of sticks and leaning into one another’s space.
  • No spitting on the ice or bench.
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THINKING IT THROUGH

Mar 13, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The statue of Wayne Gretzky watches over an empty Rogers Place as the NHL suspends games because of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The overwhelming response on Twitter Monday was very much like mine was – negative. Essentially, if the modifications suggested above are what it takes to finish the season and/or have playoffs, shut it down. What’s your take? Here’s mine, going point by point.

FACE SHIELDS. With players having to wear half-shields now, I don’t see requiring full shields as a non-starter, but it would take agreement by the NHLPA (as would other measures). What we do know is that when it comes to equipment, players don’t like being told what to do – especially with short notice.

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NO FIGHTING. Fighting is on the way out and has been for years. Instances of players dropping their gloves isn’t common during the post-season. I understand trying to lessen instances of potential transmission when players are mauling and brawling with gloves and helmets off during a scrap, but it is problematic. What would the penalties be for fighting?

NO SCRUMS. Really? How realistic is that in the heat of battle when emotions are high? Intensity and passion are what makes playoff hockey the game it is. That doesn’t mean you MUST have scrums, but they are a natural result of the intensity of the game. So, no fighting and no scrums? That’s field hockey, no?

COACHES SOCIAL DISTANCED. Given the dimensions of most NHL benches and the number of people occupying the space, there isn’t enough room to practice social distancing. There isn’t enough depth to the bench to keep coaches and players six feet apart. How many huddles between coaches and players do you see during a game? Plenty. How do you coach on the fly this way? It’s not do-able. It’s better to test everybody than even attempt this.

WINGERS TO MAINTAIN TWO FEET OF DISTANCE. Sure. Again, that’s field hockey.

NO SPITTING. So, what, we’re going to have spit-spotters? Does that include spitting out water? I assume so. Expecting players not to spit is like expecting them not to swear. No chance.

THE BOTTOM LINE

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From NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly: “We would consider anything our infectious disease experts and advisors might recommend, but I’m not sure, given the circumstances of our game that any dramatic modifications will really be necessary.”

For me, repeated testing of all players, coaches and team personnel is the best way to get the game back on the ice and keep everybody safe. As for the above suggestions by the good doctor, hard pass.

Previously by Robin Brownlee