Penguins’ COVID-19 crisis a reminder pandemic far from over

Claude Giroux
        The COVID-19 outbreak on the Pittsburgh Penguins, which made national headlines when Sidney Crosby tested positive, stands as a stark reminder to pro athletes the pandemic is far from over.
      Crosby brought the total number of Penguin players to eight who have been placed in pandemic protocol since the start of the season.
      Brian Dumoulin was the other new name added to the list. He and Crosby joined Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson on the sidelines.
      Early in the season, ex-Flyer Jeff Carter along with Jake Guentzel and Zach Aston-Reese had to sit for a handful of games.
      It’s been over a year since the Flyers got hit hard by the virus and no one should have to tell them to continue to follow safety measures carefully. According to several media outlets, more than 99 percent of the NHL players have been vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be wearing masks, etc., because a lot of these positive tests are “breakthrough’’ cases.
      Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan is clearly frustrated by the situation. Even though it looks like the pandemic numbers appear to be declining in the northeast United States, apparently it takes only one or two stricken players to touch off another crisis.
      “It’s tough,” Sullivan said. “I’m not going to lie. We are trying to do all the right things. We do have a discussion, if not daily, a few times a week about it. I know our players and our staff, we’re all trying to do the right things as far as mitigating the risk.’’
      The Flyers lost the services of players such as Claude Giroux, Justin Braun and Scott Laughton after playing a game at Washington last February. Some say the Flyers were staggered by the loss of talent and never really recovered, missing the playoffs for the fifth time in nine seasons.
      The Penguins have been doing what they can to stay safe but this second wave has really been disappointing, according to Sullivan.
      “Our team has taken on more responsibility just with testing and things of that nature to try to do the right thing and identify a case when it pops up,’’ he said. “I know how disciplined our group is. I feel, as an organization, we’re trying to do everything we can to mitigate the risk, and yet, we’re still getting it.”
      >Simmonds speaks out
      Wayne Simmonds certainly spoke his mind during his seven-year tenure with the Flyers, so why should he be any different since moving on to several new teams, most recently Toronto.
      Simmonds was particularly candid with his recent comments criticizing the NHL Players’ Association for not acting on the complaint filed by Chicago Blackhawks player Kyle Beach back in 2011, alleging sexual misconduct by assistant coach Brad Aldrich.
      Details of the horrible incident came to light recently and led to the firing of both then-Chicago GM Stan Bowman and former coach Joel Quennville, who has been with Florida the past few seasons.
      Simmons says he wants more accountability from the union and the NHL. If that can’t happen, he suggests an outside agency be brought in to ensure fairness.
      “I find in the NHL when something happens badly guys are afraid to speak up because of repercussions and that’s something that’s definitely got to change. It’s unacceptable,” Simmonds told TSN/Canada.
      “More players have got to speak up, more players have got to do their part. We don’t want this to continue to happen as we go down the line here. We’ve got to make it better for the guys that are coming in after us. It’s not about us anymore, it’s about what happens to the young kids that are coming into the league now. I feel everyone must be held accountable – whether it’s the NHL, the NHLPA – everyone has to be accountable, there’s no excuses, and this can’t just be another fleeting moment where it’s here now and gone tomorrow.”
      Union chief Donald Fehr has called for an “outside’’ investigation but even that might not be enough to appease the players.
      “What I’m going through and what I’m processing in my mind, it’s unacceptable,’’ Simmonds said. “I don’t know if we can have an independent arbitrator or something like that that’s outside of the league to where players can speak up so that it’s just not in the hands of the teams, or the NHL, so there’s an outside view, an outside scope to where they’re not thinking about whether who’s getting punishment here or who’s going to get taken out of the GM spot or coaching spot or something like that,” he said.
      “Because when it comes to sexual assault and a lot of other matters in this league, people shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. People shouldn’t be afraid to tell the truth, you know, without fear of repercussion.”
About Wayne Fish 1501 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.