No one seems to have given Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi the memo.
After delaying his arrival at training camp, Domi, the Habs’ third-leading scorer, has now officially joined the team. In so doing, he has effectively put to bed any conspiracy theories the Canadiens are primed to phone it in against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their projected play-in series.
Domi Proves He’s a Competitor
If anything, Domi’s decision has made it crystal clear players do not typically tank. It’s not in their nature. After all, Domi had every reason to sit this one out on the sidelines. As someone who has both diabetes and celiac disease, Domi is at risk of serious complications should he contract COVID-19.
Furthermore, regardless of how well Domi performs, he’s unlikely to move the needle much in negotiations with the Habs as a pending restricted free agent. The fact is, even though Domi scored a career-high 72 points in 2018-19, the 50 he was on pace for this past regular season are more indicative of his skill level based on his career up to now.
Finally, as a mere .500 team going up against the team with the seventh-best record in the NHL, the Canadiens are longshots. So, Domi exposing himself to an environment in which he’ll be in relative close quarters not just with teammates but opponents during game action can realistically end up being all for naught.
Nevertheless, none of those factors outright negate what should be obvious: This is why professional athletes do what they do. They lace them up for a shot at a championship and, even though the odds are stacked against the Canadiens, they still have a chance, even had Domi not made the decision to join in on the action.
It’s all very admirable that Domi would choose this course of action, without a vaccine being available yet. Foolish, but admirable. Should Domi contract the virus, he could face long-lasting health consequences that put his career at greater risk than his diabetes has.
Domi vs. Hockey Culture
Domi has overcome a great deal already, but it would be a shame for him to have to add yet another line to the list. He’s an inspiration to so many. There’s no disputing that or his character in general. In fact, had he decided not to play, few if any onlookers would have thought any less of him or spoken out about it.
If they did, it would speak volumes more about themselves. And, in truth, Domi is the one who is most qualified to speak of his motivation to throw caution to the wind. Nevertheless, this is a sport in which players have consistently felt pressure to play and get back in the game despite having suffered debilitating injuries.
This is a sport in which former players infamously filed a lawsuit over what they felt was the NHL’s lack of desire to protect them from brain damage. The culture is arguably a toxic one when the league’s defense was effectively, “they had a choice not to play.”
It’s never quite as simple as that, when it’s a player’s livelihood on the line. And Domi is now willingly entering a situation in which that culture, which has been engrained in the sport for decades, will be put to a test. Players will be expected to both abide by regulations and self-report symptoms should they appear.
To the league’s credit, they are taking the proper precautions. Testing will be done daily. A positive test leads to immediate isolation after which multiple “confirmatory” negative tests are required before a player is declared ready to rejoin the action.
It’s the right course of action to be extra-cautious. Still, confirmatory tests may also serve as the psychological license players need to live in denial, for however short a period of time that they can. Even if I don’t feel well, it may not actually be COVID-19. If false positives are theoretically possible, any symptoms I feel may not necessarily be anything about which I need to worry, right?
Add in the possibility for players to be asymptomatic but still have the virus and there are a lot of variables for which Domi must account. Ultimately, it’s his decision, though. If he feels comfortable playing, that’s all there is to it, but there’s more he should be considering.
Domi Makes His Choice
There’s no denying, it’s Domi’s right to put himself at risk, which is technically the case whenever he or any other NHL player steps out on the ice to play a game. It’s their job and there are always going to be safety issues in hockey. Just like with concussions though, there are potentially long-lasting effects of the virus. The difference is there’s a pandemic and wanting to stay home isn’t just an excuse but a prescribed course of action in many cases.
Domi obviously has the best of intentions here. However, God forbid, he does catch something, as he’s a key part of the team’s future. He’s arguably putting his career and the chances of the team in future postseasons at risk. It seems kind of nonsensical for him to take a chance this year of all years, when everyone is already writing off the Canadiens, when many would rather seem them lose against the Penguins and get a one-in-eight chance at drafting Alexis Lafreniere, anyway.
That’s the memo Domi may have missed. He’s entitled to make his choice, but he’s also entitled to have all the information at his disposal. When the virus remains as much of a mystery as it does, that’s just not possible. Domi is in an almost-impossible position here considering the circumstances. Everyone has to live with his decision, including himself most significantly. Hopefully he’s made the right one.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.