Mackenzie Blackwood confirmed what most of us knew on Tuesday afternoon when he met with the media. He was the unvaccinated player general manager Tom Fitzgerald talked about at the start of training camp. And this puts the New Jersey Devils in a tough spot with the season right around the corner.
Mackenzie Blackwood Is The Unvaccinated Player
Though he did not go into specifics, Blackwood talked about why he is not vaccinated just yet and the process he is going through. However, he did not rule out getting vaccinated.
“I have a couple of health concerns, health reasons why I’m working through it a little slower. I have a couple of boxes I want to check off and not just rush to do it,” Blackwood said on Tuesday to the media.
Recall last year, the Devils were hit with a severe case of COVID-19 after their red hot start to the season. Blackwood missed six games in January as he was in NHL COVID-19 protocol. And never fully recovered from his bout of COVID-19 either. Even though he had a decent season, you could tell he was not his normal self between the pipes. Blackwood finished with a record of 14-17-4 in 35 games last season posting 3.04 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. By far the worst of his young career.
Heading into this season, the Devils expected more from Blackwood, but he will have to abide by different rules this season if he remains unvaccinated. Those range from a mask mandate to not being able to leave the team hotel while on the road. In addition to the Devils have the ability to suspend him if he is unable to participate in club activities because of a positive COVID-19 test or the inability to travel because of government restrictions.
And if Blackwood remains unvaccinated, he will miss at least nine games for the Devils this season. That is because he will not be allowed to enter Canada. New Jersey plays nine games north of the border beginning December 3rd in Winnipeg against the Jets. This is something Blackwood understands but this will not be the reason he decides to get vaccinated or not.
“I have not decided one way or the other that I’m absolutely not doing it … I’m taking a little bit of extra time making sure that things are good before I do,” Blackwood said.
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Where Do The Devils Go From Here
The Devils hope that Blackwood is ready to go to start the season. That is because he informed everyone of his off-season ankle surgery as he revealed on Tuesday. Blackwood mentioned he is progressing nicely and head coach Lindy Ruff expects him in between the pipes come opening night. In the short term for Ruff, nothing has changed, Blackwood is the starting goaltender with Jonathan Bernier being the backup. Head coach Lindy Ruff expects everyone to follow the rules laid out by the NHL this season.
As for when Blackwood becomes unavailable for games, the team will cross that bridge when they get there. Bernier was brought in to address a position of strength, and having him play in Canada might be the best thing for the Devils as they try to play meaningful games down the stretch. And while Blackwood gives the Devils the best chance to win Bernier did post a 2.99 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 23 games last season with a bad Detroit Red Wings team. So the Devils will be in good hands for nine games.
For Mackenzie Blackwood, he has great support for his teammates and the biggest thing for him is not putting them in a position to lose and that is the biggest thing outside of his health concerns.
This will be an interesting story to follow as the 2021-22 regular season approaches.