The New Jersey Devils had games postponed through February 6th if not longer as they deal with a potential COVID-19 outbreak. However, as the situation continues to evolve each and every day. As more information is released the more it looks like the NHL made a mistake in letting the games against the Buffalo Sabres be played on the weekend. And it is a question many people are wondering including the Buffalo Sabres. This may be a question we never know the answer to. However, what is concerning is the situation around the Devils and it could give the NHL another black eye.
New Jersey Devils COVID Outbreak Is Concerning
This all started with Mackenzie Blackwood 12 days ago when he placed on the COVID protocol list prior to a game against the New York Islanders. During that time period, the Devils played the Islanders twice, the Philadelphia Flyers twice, and the Buffalo Sabres twice. However, Blackwood would not be the only player added to the list.
The whole situation involving the Devils and Sabres started Friday, January 29th when Travis Zajac was put on the COVID protocol. What was concerning about this was that Zajac played on Thursday, January 28th against the Flyers. The game had just happened and the Devils were going to Buffalo to play two games against the Sabres. In addition to Zajac, Sami Vatanen and Aaron Dell were put on the list because of travel quarantine issues. And Connor Carrick travelled to Buffalo but left the team to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. So he was another player who was being put on the list.
The Sabres were keeping track of the New Jersey Devils COVID situation and started to raise questions about their upcoming opponent. And there were concerns inside the team about playing the Devils on Saturday, January 30th and Sunday, January 31st. The Sabres did not get any information regarding the Devils. So the teams played on Saturday with the Sabres coming out on top in a shootout. What followed had many people questioning why these games were played in the first place.
It started with Kyle Palmieri being scratched prior to the game against the Sabres on Sunday. It was unclear why Palmieri was a scratch. However, right as the puck dropped on the game, which the Devils won 4-2, it was revealed Palmieri was put on the COVID-19 Protocol list. Again players can be put on the list for many reasons besides testing positive for COVID-19. However, playing the game knowing Palmieri had played the day before was rolling the dice.
On Monday, February 1st, the league announced the Devils were postponing games through Saturday, February 6th as four more Devils players were added to the COVID list. Those players included Andreas Johnsson, Michael McLeod, Pavel Zacha, and Janne Kuokkanen. This started a series of events that has led to the league and the Devils looking real bad in this whole situation.
New Details Emerge
Players knew there was a risk coming into this season without a bubble. However, many expected things to be done the right way when it came to COVID-19. As we saw on Tuesday, February 3rd the situation involving the Devils and Sabres got worse. It all started with the NHL announcing the Sabres against the Islanders on February 3rd was postponed. Later on, it is revealed the Sabres are not playing any games through February 11th because of COVID-19 concerns. With Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen being put on the COVID-19 protocol list.
In the evening on February 3rd, the Devils announce five more players which include Jack Hughes, Ty Smith, Jesper Bratt, Damon Severson, and Matt Tennyson are added to the COVID protocol list. That is 14 Devils players (11 if you take out Carrick, Vatanen and Dell) that were around not only Palmieri and Zajac, but the Sabres as well. Suffice it to say the Sabres were not happy the games against the Devils were played.
With each passing day, the situation becomes worse. Nikita Gusev, Yegor Sharangovich, and Nathan Bastian were added to the Devils COVID list. While Tobias Rieder and Brandon Montour were added to the Sabres COVID list. Again why was the game played Sunday?
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
One of the biggest questions besides the game being played is did the New Jersey Devils break COVID protocol along the way somewhere? Considering the NHL and the Devils were not releasing information to the Sabres potentially. The NHL has already made an example out of the Washington Capitals by fining them $100,000 for breaking COVID protocol. The NHL is looking to make an example out of another team. And that team could be the Devils.
But there is blame to go around in this fiasco. For starters, why couldn’t the Sabres or the medical staff say we feel unsafe playing a team with a potential outbreak. We have seen it in other sports games postponed the day of an event. It happened with Clemson and Florida State and most recently with the NWHL in their bubble. And why didn’t the league step in and postpone the Sunday game once they knew Palmieri was added to the list. And if the Devils did follow protocol and left it up to the NHL to make the decision. Shame on them for that.
Time To Fix Past Errors
This is now the third instance this season where a game happened and the next game had to be postponed because a player appeared on the COVID protocol list. If it is truly about money then say, don’t harp on about safety, because the Sabres were put in danger once the games over the weekend, especially Sunday were played. This is just a bad look for the NHL because it could have been avoidable. This series of events cast a shadow over a season that already people were questioning.
Now it is up to the NHL to fix this so something like this doesn’t happen again. Because not only did this affect the Devils but the Sabres as well. Not to mention the entire East Division schedule. If this situation does not get under control, there is potential for the season to be paused. And that is something the NHL doesn’t want. So they will need to work together and figure what went wrong and fix it.