As the NHL starts Phase 3 of the return to play (RTP) program, there are more and more players testing positive for COVID-19. Even though the NHLPA had a vote which the players agreed upon, there are still concerns over health and safety. There are players around the league opting out while others are waiting to see how the test results even out before they decide to play.
Just like every other team in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens are going to have issues as they push forward with the RTP plan. With opt-outs, positive tests, and players who may not be able to play for a myriad of other reasons, the Habs will have to manage the team and their bubble very carefully. Here’s what we know so far and what may happen as the RTP continues.
Positive COVID-19 Tests in the NHL
Since the start of the RTP program, there have been several reported cases of COVID-19. In Phase 2, the Tampa Bay Lightning had to close their practice facility because three players and two staff members tested positive. The Pittsburgh Penguins – the Canadiens opponents in the play-in series – voluntarily sidelined nine players who may have been exposed to COVID-19. So far a total of 43 out of 600 players who participated in Phase 2 have tested positive.
The Canadiens recently had three positive tests, although two came back as false positives. The Habs have 33 players on the training camp roster. Only having one player with an actual positive test is a good sign that the Habs are managing the virus well, but they will still have to have strict guidelines for the players to keep their bubble safe. With Phase 3 starting and more and more players and coaches being allowed around each other, testing and isolation as much as possible will become crucial if the Canadiens want to stay healthy.
Players Who Have Opted Out
So far the NHL has had a number of players opt out of playing in the Play-in/playoff tournament. Steven Kempfer – Boston Bruins, Travis Harmonic – Calgary Flames, Sven Baertschi – Vancouver Canucks, Roman Polak – Dallas Stars, Mike Green – Edmonton Oilers, and finally Karl Alzner of the Canadiens.
Alzner decided to opt-out for the health of himself and his family. He played the majority of the season with the Laval Rocket. Canadiens’ management supported his decision and the team will continue on without him.
Alzner may not seem like a big loss for the Canadiens, as stated earlier he was playing with Laval and only ended the season with the Habs due to injuries. But he would have brought his playoff experience to training camp, which he could have used which to help guide the younger defensemen on the team, who have little-to-no experience in the playoffs.
What Will Happen With Max Domi?
Max Domi is one of a handful of NHL players dealing with a pre-existing condition, that could keep him from playing with the Canadiens in the Play-in round. He has Type 1 Diabetes and celiac disease and both he and management have decided to wait 7 to 10 days before they decide whether he should play or not.
People with diabetes are no more susceptible to getting COVID-19 than anyone else, but if they contract it, there is a much higher chance to suffer serious complications. This is a huge concern for Domi and his family as there is still no vaccine for the virus. Marc Bergevin, the general manager (GM) of the Canadiens, has stated if the doctors don’t feel Domi should play then he won’t play.
“If the doctors determine it is not safe for (Domi) to play, then he will not play,”Marc Bergevin on whether Max Domi will play or not
Domi could be a key factor in the series against the Penguins, although he had a down season, he is still a high-level, top-six player. He would also supply a more veteran presence at center, which the Canadiens lack right now. No matter where Domi plays he is an offensively gifted player that the team will need at the top of his game if they want to match the Penguins high-powered offense.
The case with Domi is very delicate and it will be a long discussion for both the player and the team. The player’s health will take the forefront and be the deciding factor, as of now all NHL players must undergo a pre-participation medical examination where a doctor or the team’s infectious disease expert could deem Domi unfit due to increased risk. This would take the decision making right out of Domi’s hands, however, he could still get a second opinion if he wished. In the end, both the team and Domi will decide what’s best for him and his health.
Going Forward With Phase 3 and 4
With 33 players in Montreal for training camp, the team is preparing for its showdown against the Penguins. The players are willing and prepared for the long haul of a deep playoff run. The NHL will continue to take every precaution they can to ensure the spread of COVID-19 is kept to a minimum.
There are strict rules set in place for the players once they enter the bubble which has grave repercussions if not followed. A player not following the rules or leaving the bubble could be removed from the playoffs and the team could be fined or lose a draft pick. If players do need to leave for medical issues they will be subject to a quarantine of up to four days and must have four negative tests before being allowed to return.
If the team sticks to the rules and keeps their bubble clean, there should be no issues until phase four when they start playing other teams. The issues that could arise are the number of people that players come in contact with during, before, and after games. The NHL has stated that everyone from the coaching staff to the players all the way down to the hotel bartender will be tested intensively.
With the strict rules set in place and the isolation bubbles restricted to only certain areas, the NHL and the Canadiens should be able to play through the virus.
Habs Need to Stay Focused
The Canadiens just need to stay focused on the task at hand and trust that the doctors and league officials will do the right things in regards to players’ health and safety. In Domi’s case, the team has already determined that his health is the top priority and whether he players or not it always will be.
The Habs have a large task ahead of them if they want to beat the Penguins, and they don’t need the added pressure of worrying about catching the virus. As fans, we need to sit back and just enjoy the games and hope that the Canadiens and the league can contain the spread and no one gets sick. If all goes right, maybe we can enjoy a long playoff run and exciting hockey.
Trege Wilson lives in Nova Scotia and is a member of the RCN. He is a life long Habs fan and is creator and co-host of the popular Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered.