the westminster news
Published by the students of Westminster School
By Ryan Jainchill ’23
(Image Credit: Howlin_ Hockey of Coyotes Forward Conor Garland)
Since the end of last year's National Hockey League (NHL) season, a lot has changed league-wide. Sponsored logos have been placed on the sides of the player helmets, divisions have been realigned, the glass has been removed from behind the benches for more air space, and most importantly, the removal of fans in many of the arenas. All three of these changes have been in response to COVID-19, and more off-ice precautions have been implemented for the safety of the players, executives, and others. Even with all of these precautions, many teams have been ravaged by the virus. An abundance of cases have caused postponements of games and the league commissioner, Gary Bettman, to move games around to make sure each club plays a fair and equal amount.
The first team to be affected was the reigning Western Conference Champions, the Dallas Stars. The club reported six positive cases for the players and two for other staff members involved. These cases came less than a week before the Stars’ opener and also impacted one of their opponents, the Florida Panthers. Other clubs have had outbreaks amongst players and staff, with these such cases affecting three of the four new divisions. To limit travel, exposure, and to slow the spread, teams have been placed into seven or eight-team divisions and will play every regular-season game against those teams. The only division so far not affected is the all-Canadian one, also known as the Scotia North division: the seven-team division was formed to make it easier for the Canadian teams to travel amongst one another and to limit border trouble. Teams in the newly formed MassMutual East division have had cancellations and postponements as a result of outbreaks in the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, and one suspected outbreak in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Every team in the division has had at least one cancellation or a postponement, meaning each will have to play makeup games at the end of the season. The other two divisions have been hit harder, however, with shutdowns and postponements almost weekly. The Discover Central and the Honda West divisions, located centrally in the south and west, have had teams such as the Vegas Golden Knights of the west and the aforementioned Stars and Panthers in the central, having only played nine games in a month because of the virus. These cancellations are taxing on the players because they seem to not know when the next time they will skate is, if their organization has an outbreak or if they have been affected by another organization.
For example, the Arizona Coyotes of the Honda West division have had three of their last four games postponed due to COVID-19. The team had three straight games against the St. Louis Blues, then one postponed against the Minnesota Wild, back to St. Louis for a game, and then two postponements this week against the Colorado Avalanche because of their outbreak, and then a game against the Blues again. The Coyotes will play seven straight games against the Blues, ranging across about a week, which is the equivalent to a full playoff series. Coyotes forward, Conor Garland, was quoted as saying “If you’re going to play a team seven times in a row, it’s going to happen,” when asked about the tension and animosity that comes with playing the same team for seven straight games. He went on to add, “You’re going to have individual battles and then team battles. It’s hockey. It’s just the way it goes.” Garland was referring to the little battles that players on the Blues and Coyotes will indulge in during their seven games against St. Louis. The bad blood and animosity are common and will continue to grow in these new divisions and is common throughout the playoff series.
These little outbreaks have caused much confusion and have caused teams like the Blues and Coyotes to seemingly execute a playoff series in the regular season. With these new divisions and teams only playing others in their respective groupings, old rivalries will be renewed and new ones will be formed. All of this confusion was inevitable while playing in a pandemic and the league and its executives have done a superb job setting the precedents for what is allowed and not allowed for on-and-off ice activities. Although teams are still being affected by the virus, and a lack of training camp has led to numerous injuries, the league and commissioner Gary Bettman must have concrete plans of attack for finishing out the 2021 National Hockey League season, playoffs and all.