You can’t blame Jared Bednar for what was the sound of extreme exasperation to his tone of voice after his Colorado Avalanche played the Nashville Predators Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena. And, not that it had a lot to do with his team’s 5-2 loss either.
Can somebody please explain the NHL’s Covid-19 policy a little clearer to this man – and to the rest of us? Right now, the whole thing is turning into one big clusterpuck again.
Honestly, this was like an NHL game hosted by the Three Stooges. Yesterday, Larry gave us updates on the Predators roster, with six guys suddenly on the Covid protocol list. In the morning, Curly gave us more updates on the Preds, with two more guys on the list and pretty much the rest of their entire coaching staff. Then, in the afternoon, Moe came in and declared four Avs guys ineligible – and pulled another guy, Jack Johnson, off the ice in the first period, then let him come back, after another Covid administrator had his/her say.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyyuk – the joke’s on you, paying customers.
Where to begin with this: Well, apparently, the Avs got word on Wednesday night that Andre Burakovsky tested positive, and that J.T. Compher tested positive Thursday morning. When Jared Bednar met with us media on Zoom at 3:30 mountain, that much was known to him and us, that those two wouldn’t play. OK, fine. The Preds already had eight guys declared ineligible, sacrificed to the protocol, so that’s the way it goes.
But then, right before the game, we all were told that Darcy Kuemper wouldn’t play, because of a positive test. Then, Cale Makar too. Bednar said players were all tested at 4:30 p.m., two and a half hours before puck drop.
Then, when Makar and Kuemper were in uniform, in the room and “ready to go” according to Bednar, he was told they wouldn’t be able to play. None of the four had any symptoms of the virus, he said. All were feeling great. But they couldn’t play.
Confused? Yeah, so is coach Bednar.
“We were getting guys pulled out of our room at 5, 5:30, 6, 6:30,” Bednar said. “We were all, basically, dressed when we were getting those results.”
For Bednar, this kind of last-minute thing is not cool. Let the debate rage as to whether some of the fittest people on the planet need to be tested all the time, whether they are symptomatic or not, but the results are the results.
An NHL source told me tonight that the Avs actually had the option not to play the game if they didn’t want to. Why did the Avs have that option, and not the Predators? Because, the Predators actually had a fuller roster for the game, because of a passel of call-ups from their AHL club in Milwaukee. With the Avs losing four guys on the day of the game to Covid testing – and a three-hour flight, not including time to and from the airports – from their AHL club in Loveland, there was no way to get any more bodies to Nashville in time. There would have been cap problems anyway.
The NHL clearly has been caught with their pants down when it comes to a recurrence of the virus, in the Delta and Omicron variants. We all thought this thing was over when the vaccines came out and everybody (at least, on the Avs and throughout the league, except for Tyler Bertuzzi) got the jabs. No doubt the league brass is formulating new plans to adapt to the changed conditions (they need to allow for some of the same taxi squad/cap overage conditions of last year), but that is no comfort to the teams, players and fans who have had to witness a bad product the last week or two. The game probably should have been postponed here, but with the Avs already in town, what else was there to do but play a hockey game?
“I just said, ‘hey, what do you guys want to do? We were here to play a hockey game. They were short-handed too. We’d been prepared for this game for two days, so for us it really wasn’t much of an option,” Bednar said.
Maybe they should have declined.
The Avs, those on hand anyway, played a poor game. Pavel Francouz made his first start in a meaningful NHL game for the first time since the summer of…wait for it…2020, in the Covid bubble in Edmonton (I was there). While Frankie made some great saves in the game, he couldn’t overcome a leaky defense in front of him.
The league, in response to Omicron, has gone back to the stricter protocols of last year, when players and staff were tested every day. Otherwise this season, it had been every three days.
Everybody is super-frustrated by this again. Everybody has the vaccine in them, and nobody is seriously ill. So, why do players need to sit out when they have no symptoms and people like Dr. Fauci are saying it’s OK to be out and about if you’re vaccinated?
I’m not going to get into the politics of that. That’s not my job.
But it feels like we’re going to back to 2020 and the first four months or so of this year. And that’s a time travel experiment nobody wants, or expected, least of all a hockey coach with a damn good team who just wants to let them play.
Terry Frei contributed to this report