When the topic of conversation this week involved the resurging pandemic, the word “distraction’’ got bandied about quite a bit.
Whether that was the appropriate way for hockey coaches and players to describe the situation probably generates a justifiable, two-sided debate.
On one hand, athletes as well as everyone else should start taking extra precautions again, even if they are properly vaccinated.
On the other, teams like the Flyers still take their “jobs” seriously and have games to play – at least until the NHL tells them not to. Guys can’t just self-quarantine in hotels on the road and fret about things they largely can’t control.
With that in mind, there must have been a few groans uttered on Wednesday night when the league announced a new set of temporary health rules, including limitations on road city behavior, mask wearing, etc.
At least four teams, including division rivals New York Islanders and Carolina, have had to postpone games. Each day, the COVID protocol list grows longer, just as it has in football and basketball (baseball is in offseason).
So far only two players on the Flyers, Morgan Frost and Max Willman, have been placed in protocol. No doubt everyone from ownership down to the stickboys have their fingers crossed this is as far as it goes even as the omicron rate continues to soar.
Interim head coach Mike Yeo raised a good point the other day when discussing Frost and the implications of how the threat of illness might affect his team.
He was an assistant coach back on March 9, 2020 when the Flyers, just coming off a nine-game winning streak, were in Tampa Bay when all professional sports teams had to pull the plug. Who knows what would have happened if the Flyers were allowed to continue on course uninterrupted rather than pick up play in late summer and lose to the Islanders in the conference semifinals?
Yeo reiterated his job and that of the players is to focus on the game at hand. Remember, the Flyers did play well in the bubble up in Canada, defeating Montreal for their first playoff series win since 2012. So ordering room service and playing video games while stuck in hotel rooms shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
The return of daily testing as mandated by the NHL makes sense. You want a person who tested positive segregated as quickly as possible. That’s why Frost was yanked off the ice in the middle of Tuesday night’s game against New Jersey.
Looking back, the Flyers got hammered this past February when players such as Claude Giroux and Scott Laughton tested positive and were out of action for more than a week. No one has to remind them the impact the illness can have on people, even if they are healthy young athletes.
Left largely unsaid by the league is what impact all this will have on scheduled participation in the Beijing Olympics. The players sounded gung-ho about going (after the NHL skipped Korea in 2018) but maybe now they’re having second thoughts. After all, this is where the whole mess reportedly got started in the city of Wuhan back in 2019 (hence the nomenclature COVID-19)
You certainly wouldn’t have to twist the owners’ arms to pull out. They saw the dismal TV ratings from the year-delayed Tokyo Games. Shutting league play down for two weeks isn’t adding anything to their bottom line.
So plans of action could turn on a dime moving forward. When you hear stars such as Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand going into protocol, it’s a bit of an eye-opener.
For the Bruins, that’s more than just a distraction.