NHL players will have three extra days to decide whether or not to play in the 24-team playoff that begins on August 1, per Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now. Anyone opting out will have to do so before Monday night.
But don’t expect a whole host of skaters to sit this one out, writes The Athletic’s Scott Burnside. Families being allowed into hub cities starting with the conference championships have allayed some concerns, but there are still players with pregnant wives and pre-existing conditions who must think twice before putting themselves at risk.
One general manager, speaking anonymously, posited that there was a good chunk of NHL players who do not prefer to return to play under these conditions, per Burnside. This is a refrain we’ve heard numerous times in recent weeks, but always anonymously. That fact alone speaks to the complicated cultural hurdles facing the NHL. The option of opting out is always couched in this idea that NHL’s culture of toughness won’t allow for abstainers.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, for one, don’t expect anyone to opt-out, but that doesn’t mean it’s an automatic call, writes The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline. Portzline spells out the dilemma facing Nick Foligno to give a sense of the types of decisions players are dealing with: “He’s the Blue Jackets’ captain, so he has an enormous responsibility within the dressing room. But he’s also the father of a child with a pre-existing condition. His daughter, Milana, was born with a congenital heart defect and has had multiple surgeries. That makes her more vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.”
The league itself does not require players to cite any specific reason for opting out. Given the culture of the NHL, however, it seems that any player who makes that choice will be scrutinized. And yet, that’s not the same as being stigmatized – and that’s an important distinction. There’s a lot of understanding in the league right now, and given the absolute dangers of COVID-19, players and coaches alike realize that the decision to play – or not to play – is deeply personal.