Nick Wass/Associated Press
At least one “prominent” Western Conference player does not believe the NHL will start playing games in the near future.
“In my opinion, no way we play,” the player said Friday, per Michael Russo and James Mirtle of The Athletic.
Russo and Mirtle noted 11 players have tested positive for COVID-19, which led to the shutdown of multiple training groups. The player continued, noting there are some unhappy players around the league:
“This just makes no sense to me. Right from the return-to-play format announcement and this Phase 2 thing that none of us have to be in, they’ve put the cart before the horse. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and they’re shocked there’s an outbreak? And it’s a long ways off to July 10, so you can’t tell me more and more guys won’t be testing positive as more and more guys start to get back to town.
“Guys are not happy. This is why we better have a full player vote and not just an executive board vote. But I’m not convinced [NHLPA executive director] Don [Fehr] is going to allow that because he knows there’s so many of us on the fence. That’s why I think the league was trying to be hush-hush on these positive tests.“
Russo and Mirtle explained the 11 positive tests came from a group of more than 200 players who were tested with Phase 3, which calls for the start of training camps, approaching. The plan is to start Phase 3 on July 10, and one NHL source said the league has not given much consideration to pushing that date back at this point.
The report also cited “several” agents who said players are concerned with the idea of being away from families in hub cities, the rising COVID-19 numbers and whether the playoff will be a truly representative championship if players are forced into quarantine with the Stanley Cup on the line.
In May, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly revealed a handful of players testing positive would not shut down the season’s restart.
“Our medical advisors [believe] that a single positive test, depending on the circumstance, should not necessarily shut the whole operation down,” Daly said, per Greg Wyshynski of ESPN. “Obviously we can’t be in a situation where we have an outbreak that will affect our ability to play. But a single positive test, throughout a two-month tournament, should not necessarily mean an end for the tournament.”
There is also the reality that players have received the majority of their salaries for the season to this point, which Russo and Mirtle noted could decrease the motivation for many to play amid the pandemic.
The NHL’s plan is to put 24 teams in two hub cities, with the top four seeds in each conference getting byes into the playoffs and the remaining squads taking part in best-of-five qualifying rounds. The top four seeds would play a round-robin to determine seeding in the postseason.
After the qualifying rounds, the league would hold a 16-team playoff with best-of-five series in the first round and best-of-seven series from there until a champion is determined.