As a Devils fan, I feel compelled to apologize to Sabres fans in general and NHL fans at large for the entire season being jeopardized by whatever the heck happened with our franchise in the last week. Thing is, it’s impossible to know who exactly to blame at this juncture. Clearly one, if not both games this weekend should not have been played. Certainly the Sunday game should have been nixed after two new additions to our COVID list this weekend followed Mackenzie Blackwood (who seems to be patient zero) being placed on the list last week.
Buffalo already has two players on the COVID protocol list themselves as of today, including Taylor Hall – with almost certainly more to follow. It’s unlikely a positive result would show up just three days after our first game with the Sabres if it was an in-game transmission but at this point postponing their games is the right call at last by the NHL. If the Sabres start getting confirmed cases and it gets contract traced to our game then it could be pretty much game over for the NHL in 2021, presuming it’s shown that (unlike other sports so far) you can have in-game transmission.
Aside from the fact that the Devils added five new players to their own COVID list (while Blackwood came off, yippee) including poor Jesper Bratt who’d just gotten out of mandated quarantine, what’s become annoying is that clearly there’s more evidence someone dropped the ball here. And if that someone was the Devils they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Especially after it came out that the Sabres are very angry with both us and the league for the lack of transparency around our COVID situation.
I can’t blame anyone involved with the Sabres for being annoyed, their schedule has been disrupted due to factors beyond their control. I don’t want to assume this is our fault but let’s be real, coach Lindy Ruff and GM Tom Fitzgerald have gone back to the Lou Lamoriello days of giving out as little information as possible. If it comes to lineup decisions, you gotta watch the pregame warmups to figure out lines and scratches. Injury updates? Hah, we still haven’t gotten the straight story on the Nico Hischier injury with the latest rumor – from an overseas paper – being a broken fibula. Why you would choose to be secretive about an injury that will be fully healed anyway by the time the player returns to the lineup is beyond me, but that’s gamesmanship.
Playing fast and loose with info on COVID cases would be a different ball of wax though. This is a whole new level beyond normal gamesmanship, which is why I don’t want to assume we did anything untoward. But it would only be a step away for us as opposed to maybe two or three steps away for a more transparent team. If it’s found we did anything wrong, I pretty much wouldn’t begrudge the NHL any punishment they choose to hammer us with.
It is clear the league themselves dropped the ball in letting Sunday’s game go on though, whoever’s decision it is on postponements or cancellations. Nothing good could have come of it when you had two straight days of an active player testing positive, and one of them having played in the Saturday game. Protocols and judgement all around – from the league to teams to individual players themselves – have to improve if the NHL doesn’t want to embarrass themselves further by having the season get postponed when every other season including the NBA has managed to power through.