Last weekend in the pandemic era NFL, the Denver Broncos were left stranded without a quarterback after all four rostered QBs were ruled ineligible due to COVID-19 protocols. The Broncos started practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton who hadn’t taken meaningful snaps under center since his freshman year at Wake Forrest. Things were so bad they asked the league about signing two assistant coaches who played QB in college to the active roster. The league said no.
Previously the NFL said it wouldn’t postpone games due to COVID-19 roster eligibility issues. So predictably, the Broncos were smashed 31-3 by the New Orleans Saints.
What if this same pandemic scenario happened to the Vegas Golden Knights with goalies? Or even defensemen?
The question needs to be asked because players simply can’t roll in from the outside in a pandemic world and suit up. During the bubble, teams had a separate goaltender quarantine away from the team just in case. But that was a special circumstance made possible by the bubble setup. If the NHL does not bubble up for the regular season – which doesn’t seem likely – then what happens?
Let’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are both ruled out for COVID reasons. We wouldn’t know that publicly but let’s say that’s the case. Now Oscar Dansk has to come in from either Henderson or come back from a Silver Knights road trip. Does he have to quarantine? For how many days? Will the league consider postponing games? How many games would it postpone, max? Because if the team’s goalies are wiped out we’re talking a week or two depending on how it goes with tests.
Will the league protect teams from blowout losses with a seventh defenseman in goal pads? And is the league (and you the fans) willing to accept that some teams might play 48 games while others might only get to 36 or fewer?
It’s a balancing act. If you want hockey, you’re going to have to accept these are not normal times and that some games would be considered better than none. Broncos fans are upset. But what do you want? Football or no football? It was a long shot to lose four quarterbacks, but it happened. So if you accept that there’s risk in playing games, these are the consequences.
It will be the same with hockey. Even if they go into the potential scenario of gathering into mini-bubbles for a week or two at a time, there’s still risk. And with travel it will be much harder to minimize the risk of infection. Look at football. Or baseball. The NHL and NBA were able to pull it off because they didn’t break the bubble. You will not have that sealed environment this time.
Certainly teams could have the option of keeping a player back and away from the team. Let’s say you sign one of the free agent floaters out there like Jimmy Howard. You’re paying him to stay healthy and in relative game shape. You’re only breaking the glass in case of emergency. But not every team could or would employ that player. Money is tighter than ever and even league minimum makes a difference.
The possibility exists that a team could miss three games in a week if both goalies get sick. Or what if it runs through the room and takes out four D and six forwards? Then what? Perhaps you could dress the Silver Knights roster and accept your losses after they clear quarantine, but not before.
Considering all the options, the most fair and balanced plan is to cancel or postpone games. We must accept not every team will finish with the same number of games played. Some teams will frankly be screwed by this. Some will benefit. The bottom line is do you want to play games or not?
Until we are out of the woods on this pandemic, we can accept that things are different and adapt or fold the tent. The next few weeks will be extremely telling for the league and its players.