It comes as no surprise the NHL had to announce the rescheduling of three more New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres games. And with each passing day, the NHL looks worse and worse in this COVID situation. As the numbers and names continue to pile up for both teams on the COVID-19 protocol list, the whole situation has left the NHL with a black eye. To use the old sports cliche that executives like to throw around when something bad happens and sanctions need to be thrown out the NHL had an institutional failure on how it handled the whole situation from the top down.
NHL Failed The Devils And Sabres
From the beginning, the whole situation involving the Devils and Sabres has been handled poorly. As a matter of fact, it has been an ugly mess for the NHL. The NHL announced over the weekend that 27 games were rescheduled. Not only did those games involve the Devils and Sabres but other teams in the East Division. Prior to that, the league announced new protocols to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Those include holding meetings virtually, removing the glass behind the bench and penalty boxes for better airflow, and having players arrive an hour and 45 minutes to puck drop.
However, the main issue of discussion is not the protocol themselves, but where the system failed the Devils and Sabres. Because looking back the weekend series that happened on January 30th and 31st should not have happened. We know postponing games was inevitable, but in this case, it was totally avoidable. Because if everything was followed then those games should have been postponed. Instead, the NHL is left with a mess of reworking the schedule over and over again.
Where We Stand At This Point
Even though the Sabres are back practicing, their games are postponed through early next week. Meanwhile, the Devils have yet to resume practicing. And their training facility is closed despite what has been on social. The Devils COVID protocol list is still a mile long. There are several new players that were added to the list that played in the game back on January 31st. It is unclear if the Devils will be back to action next week with the team in quarantine due to several players testing positive including Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac for COVID-19 along with several staff members according to those who spoke with Full Press Hockey.
Zajac has been on the list the longest at 14 days, with Palmieri trailing him at 12 days. There are others on the list like Andreas Johnsson, Jane Kuokkanen, Pavel Zacha, and Michael McLeod who have been on there for at least 10 or more days.
This reflects the clerical error from yesterday.
Good news: No #NJDevils have (technically) been added in the last 3 days.
News that … wouldn’t be defined as good: 12 NJ players have now spent 10+ days on the list, and its 15 if you add Comrie/Carrick/Vatanen quarantines. pic.twitter.com/IFb6I5XuOT
— Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22) February 11, 2021
As you can see you can probably guess which players were in close contact or tested positive for COVID-19 and played in both games during the weekend of January 30th and 31st. Of course, this does the Sabres list of players on the protocol list. The Sabres have nine players on the list. All those players were in the games against the Devils during that weekend. Plus the Sabres let it be known that head coach Ralph Krueger tested positive for COVID-19.
Which begs to question where did everything go wrong?
How It Went So Wrong
According to sources close to Full Press Hockey, Devils forward Travis Zajac tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, January 29th, the day the Devils flew to Buffalo. The Devils expressed their concern to the NHL and asked the NHL if it wise to fly to Buffalo. The NHL said go ahead and head to Buffalo to play the weekend as one source put it to Full Press Hockey.
We already know the Sabres had issues with the Devils coming up to play the game. But what makes matters worse according to one source is that Kyle Palmieri tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, January 31st just prior to the game being played. This again raises the question as to why the game was played knowing the situation we know right now. We all know hindsight is 20/20, but there is a lot of evidence pointing to COVID-19 being transmitted on the ice. However, another situation that arose out of this mess. The league is treating new instances with an “abundance of caution.” Then why didn’t the league use caution when it came to this situation?
While the NHL is taking steps to improve COVID testing around the league, it proved that testing players at 4 pm the day before a game, wasn’t the best way to do things. Especially with results taking time to come back. The system that was put in place failed the players and the teams. There was a chain of command and the leaders at the top failed these teams. And as we have seen others around the league. Obviously, the NHL has changed that to have rapid tests that are administered at the morning skates. But this brings up another question to ponder. What is different about the testing currently going on than what was administered in the playoff bubble?
Where Does The NHL Go From Here?
This is the million-dollar question. The NHL does not want to pause the season. However, some teams may not play 56 games. And the league will have to go to points-percentage to determine playoff teams. But this whole situation could have been avoidable if there was not an institutional failure. With new protocols in place, it is clear the NHL, knows it failed these teams and players. And will need to do even more to prevent another situation. But here we are with the Devils and Sabres being off for about two weeks.
The NHL needs to start being even more cautious when it comes to COVID or else they will have no choice but the pause the season. One thing is for certain it is time to put safety in front of dollars.