Not exactly the news I wanted to see getting home from a half-day of work before watching the Devils take on the Oilers in their second post-break game. It’s one thing when players get put on the COVID list, but when it’s your 60+ year old coach that’s a little different in terms of concern level. Even if Lindy Ruff is presumably vaccinated and boosted a la almost the entire NHL. While this season’s wave of COVID hasn’t even been as bad (so far) as last season’s was for the Devils on the whole with only three players currently on it, the sheer amount of people testing positive around the league just casts a pall on this part of the hockey season at least.
Especially after the WJC had games forfeited and eventually the whole tournament canceled. I can’t say I get into watching the prospect All-Star games in general, but I was even less inclined to pay attention this year given the COVID recess that both sidelined the NHL through the holiday and canceled the women’s version of the WJC. People in charge of running the tournament starting with the IIHF need to answer for why they thought they could pull off the men’s tournament without a true bubble in place and a far more contagious variant running rampant. Not to mention if only one or two positive tests per team were going to be enough to constitute a forfeit, how did anyone think it would be possible to have a legitimate tournament play out? Either have a real bubble with draconian forfeit rules, or no bubble with large taxi squads and a willingness to play on.
All of these leagues and sports seem to be making it up as they go along without much regard for consistency, and in the NHL’s case they have the added complication of multiple Canadian teams and that country’s different rules and standards compared to our own. In the case of our sport, we’re going to have to find a happy medium between trying to curb the spread and just continually sidelining asymptomatic players in a league where supposedly 99% of players and staff are at least vaccinated, thereby reducing the symptoms for the vast majority of symptomatic players to cold/flu territory. You can’t have it both ways and exercise extreme caution while still trying to make decisions based on financial considerations. Canadian teams having games postponed because they can’t have fans in the building is just the latest example of the NHL wanting its cake and eating it too. So if teams are healthy enough to play now then get ten guys on the COVID list when it’s rescheduled they have to play with a bunch of AHL fill-ins because the NHL and teams wanted more fans in the building?
By the same token, it isn’t ideal to have home-ice advantage in some arenas and not in others based on different rules in each city and province. Unfortunately, this is the world we still live in at the moment. First priority in every decision whether to postpone or play should always about be health and safety but second priority shouldn’t be financial, rather it should just be finding a way to play 82 games with as close to optimum rosters as is possible given realistic safety protocols and the normal wear and tear of an NHL season. If a team like say, the Islanders misses the postseason by a couple of points they’ll have a justifiable beef given the NHL made them play a few games early in the season with far from an optimum roster simply because they didn’t want to compromise home dates when tickets for the new Belmont arena were in higher demand.
It’s not an ideal world for anyone including the fans. After nearly a half season of shall we say loose requirements for fans to attend the Prudential Center, the protocols are getting beefed up at the arena with a mask mandate in effect immediately post-holiday pause and a vaccine mandate to go into effect on January 10, per the city of Newark. I’ve already made my complicated feelings known about the mask mandate, I actually do welcome the vaccine mandate though. That won’t affect me in the least since I’ve already got my green card for the Prudential Center indicating my vaccination status, nor will it make me look any more forward to the next time going to the arena wearing a mask. I’ll probably have to go to at least a couple games this month given the market for tickets at this point – everything considered – is practically nil.
I won’t be going this afternoon but that was mostly due to the fact I didn’t know how late I would have to work today so a 1 PM start probably wasn’t going to be ideal. It turned out I wound up leaving at 11:30 so I could have easily made the game, but to be honest I’m just as ambivalent watching a game in a near-sellout crowd at the moment as I am doing it in a mask. While I’m not especially afraid of getting this variant – particularly soon after getting my booster – it’s still at best an annoyance I don’t want to deal with. Plus you factor in this is also cold and flu season, and with cases spiking it’s hard to get instantaneous results on a COVID test, so you basically are forced to quarantine even with the flu or a cold.
While ticket prices have plummeted since I sold my pair of seats (one of the rare times where I made out by selling early), I’m still expecting today to be a near sellout given the fact most people have – or can get – this afternoon off. Unless there are a lot of no-shows given fear over the spread of the variant, there’s no way I really want to be in a crowd with bumper to bumper traffic in the hallways and people behind me all game long. Games like next Thursday against Columbus or the following Monday against Tampa where there’ll be maybe 10000 people in the building? I don’t feel as crowded upon then, especially with an aisle seat and the ability to move around the arena to an even more open area if need be.
This is more than I wanted to go on about the variant, but hopefully the last time I’ll need to drone on it, though I’m sure I’ll comment on my first post-new year game assuming I do go to the Rock next month in a mask. I’ll have to go to at least one of the next two games to pick up my long-sleeve t-shirt holiday gift from the Devils and probably wouldn’t be able to sell all my tickets next month regardless. There still isn’t really enough team-related news to discuss, although they did manage to break a six-game losing streak by wining their first post-break game against the Sabres 4-3 the other night with Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt leading the way with respective three-point nights (each with a goal and two assists). For Bratt, he’s continuing his star turn and contract drive while hopefully Hughes can use Thursday as a springboard to achieve more consistent production of his own.
That’s about as high a note as I can end this blog on, hopefully everyone has a happy and safe New Year!