NHL team’s anger could spark COVID-19 policy changes

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The Sabres are fuming because they were obligated to play a home game last Sunday against the Devils under perhaps murky circumstances while, on the other hand, the NBA’s Nets are livid because Kevin Durant was not permitted to remain on the floor on Friday.

Which is to suggest, or perhaps remind, that attempting to play pro sports seasons through the teeth of a pandemic is an imperfect science and there will be room for criticism of both an abundance of caution and not being cautious enough.

Mistakes will be made. Protocols will have to be adjusted. And the NHL will most certainly need to amass more information on whether cross-team transmission is, in fact, a reality, though the medical professionals advising the league believe that infections are far more likely to be spread among teammates spending time together in close quarters.

That is why, I was told, teams are reminding their players and staffs not to become lax in social distancing and in wearing masks at practice arenas.

We live with inconsistent mandates and regulations in each part of our lives. Why is this establishment open and why is this one closed? Why is that school open but this one not?

And, in the case of the NHL, what is the point of ensuring that players are six feet apart in the locker room — per a new directive issued this week, clubs must reconfigure home and visitors’ rooms to accommodate proper social distancing, which is probably a physical impossibility in most buildings — if they are scrunched together, breathing heavily on the bench?

It sure seems paradoxical.

The Sabres apparently were upset that they were unable to obtain information from the Devils or the league about the condition of Kyle Palmieri, who had played on Saturday, Jan. 30, but was placed on the COVID-restricted list the next day. This in the context of several Devils previously having been placed on the list.

But the protocols agreed to by the NHL and NHLPA forbade either the Devils or the league from supplying further information to the Sabres regarding Palmieri, who might have tested positive, but who also might have been on the restricted list for contact tracing.

We’re told that the parties may revisit that policy, though it is unclear that communication of a hypothetical positive test result for Palmieri would have altered the league’s decision to go forward with the match. It undoubtedly would have generated deeper dialogue, but the Sabres would not have been able to unilaterally postpone the game.

Sources have indicated that the NHL expects vaccinations to become available to the players in perhaps another month or six weeks. If waves of postponements continue and if outbreaks spread, there should probably be a dialogue about suspending the season until vaccinations are completed and remodeling to (what?) a 40-game schedule.

MLB played 60 games last year and produced a credible World Series champion, so there should be no worry about delegitimizing the playoffs or Stanley Cup if the NHL schedule needs further reduction. The season is being conducted under unique guidelines, anyway.

If the Players’ Association believes its members are having their health placed in jeopardy, by all means the union has the obligation to engage the league on its concerns. But I get the distinct impression that, at least through this juncture, the PA and the NHL are operating in close to lockstep.

This week, the league (with PA approval) issued a directive that essentially barred players from reporting to games until an hour and 45 minutes before puck drop unless medical treatment were necessary. Most players report between two-and-a-half and three hours before a game.

After input from players, the decree was changed so that the athletes can report earlier than the 1:45 threshold, “to receive necessary treatment or to engage in preparations in advance of the Game.”

I do believe that pro sports leagues are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. I do believe leagues care about the health of their players at least equally as do fans or upstate politicians with blemished records looking to score cheap points.

Imagine my surprise at becoming somewhat of an apologist for Sixth Avenue.

So my good friends at The Athletic — Scott Burnside, Craig Custance and Pierre Lebrun — have come up with projected rosters for the 2022 Olympics. For Team USA, only four righty defensemen were named — Jeff Petry, John Carlson, Charlie McAvoy and Seth Jones.

But neither they, nor you, and most importantly Team USA’s hierarchy, should go to sleep on Adam Fox, who is emerging as an elite talent in his second season on the Rangers blue line.

Artemi Panarin is the Rangers’ best player. But Fox is not all that far behind. Fox is a legitimate candidate, even if his résumé and portfolio is not quite as full as the aforementioned quartet.

Come to think if it, this deal for a defenseman who originally declined to sign with Calgary after being drafted by the Flames has worked out a bit better than the one about 10 years ago for Tim Erixon, hasn’t it?

In the wake of 37-year-old Jason Spezza recording a hat trick this week for the Maple Leafs, it is well worth remembering that on June 23, 2001, the Islanders and Mike Milbury traded the draft pick that would have netted Spezza, plus Zdeno Chara, to the Senators in exchange for Alexi Yashin.

That almost makes Rick Middleton for Ken Hodge seem reasonable. Or, for the Oilers, Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner.

So, backtracking: The Islanders’ all-time No.’s 17: 1. Greg Gilbert; 2. Jude Drouin; 3. Shawn Bates; 4. Matt Martin; 5. Alex McKendry. Mention: Wendell Clark.

If you can point me to a more disastrous contract in the league than that of Jeff Skinner, who has one point (an assist) in 10 games this year and has recorded 24 points (14-10) in 69 games since the Sabres signed the winger to an eight-year extension worth an average annual value of $9 million per year, I am all ears.

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