By most accounts the Devils’ 4-1 preseason was a successful one, certainly in terms of younger players making an impact, guys like Dawson Mercer and Alexander Holtz cemented their status as top prospects and perhaps earned spots on the opening night roster. To quickly answer Derek’s question from a previous blog, I’m probably more sure about Mercer being ready than Holtz, but think due to management’s recent emphasis on not rushing guys that they won’t rush either player and give them too much too soon (though I do think both make the roster and Mercer perhaps for good while Holtz may be more of a look and see). Maybe I’ll have a full season preview when the actual opening night roster comes out.
Then again with all of our question marks it’s hard to imagine the Opening Night roster being our optimum lineup. Jack Hughes missed a couple of preseason games due to a minor injury but should be ready for Opening Night next Friday. Ty Smith? Maybe not so much with an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the preseason and put his Opening Night status in jeopardy. Fellow defenseman Damon Severson’s been a bit banged up throughout camp as well and Miles Wood is also questionable for Opening Night. Not exactly what you want with the opener a week away.
At least they avoided further injuries last night with that disgrace of a blackout which canceled our final preseason game against the Islanders. Makes you wonder what corners former owner Jeff Vanderbeek cut to get the Prudential Center built since this is now the second time the entire building has blacked out during a Devils game, causing a cancellation or postponement (the other team being the infamous January 2010 half-game against the Lightning). Imagine if last night was the actual home opener as opposed to the final preseason game? It would have been nice if the Devils were more forthcoming about their cancellation last night – me sitting at home knew about the game being cancelled faster than some people sitting in the stands. I suppose everyone has access to Twitter or knows someone that does these days, but still it’s a bad look when you clear out the bench and decide on a cancellation ten-fifteen minutes before formally telling the fans in attendance. At least those who had tickets will get to exchange them for a regular season game in the same price bracket, hah.
I’d already used a buyback for my last two preseason games so I didn’t have to worry about wasting my time and parking money for that fiasco. Hopefully whatever issue they had yesterday gets resolved by next Friday as far as the building is concerned. Dealing with the Mackenzie Blackwood issue is another story, however. I said I didn’t want to comment about the then-unnamed player’s refusal to get the vaccine shot last week until it actually wound up hurting the team on the ice, but we may well be getting to that point sooner rather than later, and much sooner than I hoped we’d be getting to it. Blackwood was supposed to play last night’s game – when we were actually supposed to have a game – but was pulled due to what’s now being termed an inconclusive COVID test. Translation: He’s in quarantine until the results of the PCR test come back by Sunday.
God forbid this guy actually tests positive and gets the virus again, missing Opening Night and beyond as a result, then all hell will really break loose. I’ve been fearing boos given how strongly people on all sides feel about the vaccination issue, now I could care less if he gets booed to the sky and if this test is positive and he misses Opening Night, I’ll likely be among the booers. Let’s leave aside putting his own health in peril unnecessarily for a moment, after a bout with COVID last year that was as hard as anyone on the team’s was. And let’s even leave out the fact he was patient zero for said COVID outbreak on the team. Given the increased safety protocols his vaccinated teammates have to deal with in the locker room and on the road due to having an unvaccinated player around them, not to mention the on-ice impact of whatever games he misses, and I’m sure not all of his vaccinated teammates are exactly thrilled about Blackwood’s foot-dragging (which included initially relenting to get the vaccine, then getting out of the chair just before he was about to get the shot per GM Tom Fitzgerald on a podcast – starts about sixteen or so minutes in)
I’m sure that not every player who got the vaccine was really gung-ho about it and some were hesitant. Pavel Zacha – to his credit – admitted as much in one of Corey Masiak’s articles. But they all eventually did it, whether it was just about not wanting the increased protocols or making the wiser health decision in the end IMO, and even if some of his teammates are sympathetic to Blackwood’s feelings, I’m sure it’s not universal judging by the debates around this issue online and in society at large. Besides the additional protocols his teammates have to deal with off the ice, the internal debates this is inevitably causing are one more unnecessary distraction.
I don’t want to hear that it shouldn’t be a rule or a mandate (which it really isn’t, just strongly incentivized) or that the NHL and his team shouldn’t guilt him into this – the NHL, other businesses and entities have the right to have whatever protocols they feel necessary for a worldwide pandemic and all players knew the rules of engagement heading into camp. I’ve heard it dismissed as PR eyewash but most players – including all of the league’s best made one decision, he and a few other stragglers made another. And let’s just bring his own health back into the equation – my goodness, of all the people to be vaccine hesitant I wasn’t expecting it to be the goalie who admitted he didn’t start breathing normally until months after his bout with the virus in February. Heck I wasn’t expecting anyone on this team to be vaccine hesitant after our 2021 season got destroyed by a vast outbreak.
So now we’re in limbo till Sunday at least, and not likely for the last time this season. Imagine if this inconclusive test had occured next Friday or on the day of another regular season game? Given that he’ll be tested every day as an unvaccinated player it’s always going to be a possibility from now until when and if he does get the vaccine. If we have the worst-case scenario by Sunday, not only will he miss whatever games he’d be in recovery for, but even if he changed his mind to get the vaccine after a ‘second’ bout with COVID he’d likely have to wait a certain amount of time after his infection before getting it. So he may well wind up missing games one way or another regardless, given the inability of unvaccinated players to travel into Canada for NHL games (the NBA has an exception that the NHL decided not to pursue).
Not exactly a situation you want to have to deal with, given all of this team’s other potential issues and question marks.