Middle Ground: In NHL, as in All Sports, Meeting of the Minds on Playing Needed

By Patrick Kelly

As talks between National Hockey League executives and players continue to move forward, the players are starting to speak out about the potential risks they see with possibly playing. One of those comments that wasn’t intended to reach the public eye were those by Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs last week on what was supposed to be a private game chat. A good amount was said by Marner, but the quote that is sticking with people is “what if someone dies?” In the same breath, he mentions Max Domi, a forward with the Montreal Canadiens, who has type 1 diabetes.

Domi wouldn’t be the only one playing with that disease. With the NHL pushing the possibility of a 24-team playoff, there would be up to four players who have diabetes that would be playing:  Domi, Luke Kunin of the Minnesota Wild, Kaapo Kakko of the New York Rangers, and Cory Conacher, who is currently assigned to the Tampa Bay Lightning AHL affiliate Syracuse Crush, but could possibly be a black ace if the rosters are expanded as they would be normally during the playoffs. 

One thing that is nice for leagues like the NHL, NBA, and MLB is they aren’t considering these plans without some precedent. Sports like the UFC, NASCAR, and the PGA have either started hosting events or have a solid plan in place going forward for events. The UFC is probably the best to be looked at. In the past two weeks, they have held three events, all in Jacksonville, Fla. in an empty Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. The UFC made clear beforehand that everyone would be tested, saying they had more than 600 COVID-19 and antibody tests. During the three events, the UFC had 32 of 33 fights go on as planned, with Uriah Hall vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza being canceled due to Souza and his corner testing positive for the virus. Souza had stated that he knew there was a chance that he would test positive considering he had a family member test positive for it. The fight was pulled from the card and all other fights went on as planned. 

Based off what we know, those were the only three people to test positive and while we don’t know if any UFC staff tested positive, we can assume that all other 64 fighters and their corners were negative, which has to be a big sigh of relief for not only the UFC, but other leagues who are pulling for the UFC to set a precedent. The UFC has announced two more events going forward, Fight Night 176, which will take place on May 30 and UFC 250 on June 6. The next fight night will also be important for other leagues as UFC president Dana White is trying to keep FN 176 in the original intended location of Las Vegas, but will move it to Arizona if need be. If Las Vegas does open for the UFC and everything goes as planned, it can be a big step for other leagues who are all eyeing Vegas as a possible “hub city.”

Just like the UFC, any league that comes back will have rigorous testing for all players and staff around the league including the antibody test. One thing the players are concerned about is the health of general managers and coaches. The staff around the teams is a very important point that needs to be raised. While the players are in the prime of their lives, there are coaches and GMs that are pushing 60 or past that like Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville, who is 61. This is where leagues will have to be clever in figuring out how the coaches can safely be around the players on and off the ice while still maintaining a safe distance. 

These are weird times indeed and the need for creativity and brainstorming in sports is more important than ever if we don’t want a major disturbance in the world of sports for years to come. Some people will have to make sacrifices money-wise for the greater good and to keep the sanctity of sports. Athletes also have to think about the financial repercussions for not only them but for other staff on their team. If leagues don’t play this year, there will be teams that may have to be downsized permanently, not just a temporary furlough of employees.