**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2021 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
How bizarre was this week?
First, a member of the Golden Knights coaching staff may have been exposed to the coronavirus and as a precaution, they were kept away from the rink. Then it turned out one of them actually tested positive.
Then the team goes ahead and plays St. Louis Tuesday with general manager Kelly McCrimmon behind the bench as acting head coach assisted by Silver Knights coach Manny Viveiros and members of his staff.
The Knights spot the Blues two two-goal leads, rally behind Max Pacioretty’s hat trick only to lose 5-4 in a shootout as St. Louis beats Robin Lehner twice in the skills competition.
The following day, a player tests positive and it’s none other than Alex Pietrangelo, the former Blues captain. Thursday’s game is postponed to be made up at a later date. The facility gets shut. No practice. No media availability. Everything in Knightsville goes dark.
Then it’s announced that multiple coaches tested positive and the team’s games against San Jose in Arizona Monday and Wednesday are postponed, leaving the Knights without a game until Friday, Feb. 5.
Viveiros and his staff were unable to be on the bench for the Silver Knights’ two preseason games because they were with the Golden Knights Tuesday. Former Golden Knight Deryk Engelland was recruited to be the bench coach for the Silver Knights vs. San Jose with the real coaches in a suite at Orleans Arena and Engelland wins both games, the second of which was abruptly ended due to COVID-19 protocols involving the Barracuda with the Silver Knights leading 1-0 after two periods.
Oh, and the team’s whacky salary cap situation may have finally worked itself out with defensemen Brayden McNabb going on long-term injured reserve according to CapFriendly.com, with an unknown injury. Or, maybe it hasn’t. The current roster shows 13 forwards, five defensemen, and two goalies, and still just $31,000 in cap space. Pietrangelo is likely out for a little while, so is McNabb, so more moves are coming but they still may not be able to get Glass and Hague in the same lineup.
Does it get any stranger than this?
It doesn’t. Which begs a couple of questions:
One, should Tuesday’s game have even been played once the coaching staff was quarantined? Nothing against McCrimmon, Viveiros or the other HSK staffers on the bench, but with things so out of whack, shouldn’t the NHL have stepped in and said “No”?
Two, in light of the various outbreaks around the league, should the NHL have waited until everyone was vaccinated before beginning the season to help mitigate the potential for postponements?
The second is tougher than the first to answer. But let’s try.
When the NHL announced it was going to play beginning Jan. 13, there was much celebration. Hockey was going to be back. Teams were not going to be confined to a bubble, though the seven Canadian teams would play each other within their own division and not travel to the U.S.
The league had a 54-page manual for COVID-19, outlining do’s and don’ts, explaining all the protocols for everyone associated with the game. It looked impressive and sounded good. The schedule would be reduced to 56 games and the Stanley Cup would be awarded by mid-July.
In doing so, the league acknowledged there would likely be positive tests during the season and would deal with it on a case-by-case basis. Thus, when the Golden Knights’ coaching staff found itself exposed, the league permitted Tuesday’s game vs. St. Louis to be played as Vegas had a plan to deal with the coaching vis-a-vis McCrimmon and the Silver Knights staff.
It stood to reason that if one of the coaches had tested positive, then, later three (who, the team refuses to say), that the players ran the risk of exposure from that coach or coaches, given they’re on the ice together. So perhaps out of “an abundance of caution,” Tuesday’s game should not have been played at all.
But the show went on. Pietrangelo was on the ice, played just under 29 minutes and didn’t look all that great doing so against his former team. But that’s not the point for this discussion. Yes, he tested negative Tuesday morning but by Thursday, he was positive and placed on the COVID list by the league, which is how everyone found out. The team, which is not obligated to say anything, didn’t.
So, the Blues had to worry about one or more of their players testing positive in the aftermath of the Pietrangelo news. Ditto for the four on-ice officials who worked Tuesday’s game. Somehow, St. Louis avoided having anyone contract the coronavirus and the Blues went on to Anaheim and played the Ducks over the weekend.
But when you have outbreaks like the ones in Dallas, in Carolina, in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, and Florida where groups of players or entire teams are impacted, you have to wonder if the NHL did the prudent thing in starting its season when it did.
There were reports out of Canada prior to the season the league had procured large batches of the vaccine to inoculate the players, coaches, on-ice officials and staff. Turns out it wasn’t true. Instead, the players are waiting their turn, just like the rest of us. I guess hockey players aren’t considered essential workers.
So why not wait until everyone had a shot in their arm before starting to play? Wouldn’t that have been the prudent thing to do?
In a perfect world, yes. But the NHL’s business side is hurting. It is losing billions with a ‘B’ as commissioner Gary Bettman has pointed out. It could not wait until say, March, when enough vaccine might be readily available to cover everyone involved, assuming the league could get its hands on enough doses. Too many complications, not the least of which is its expiring television deal with NBC, which holds the rights to televise the Olympics in Japan this July.
It’s still up in the air whether the Tokyo Games will even happen. It depends who you believe, the Japanese government or the International Olympic Committee. But the NHL had to make a decision and it said, “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” despite the fact its key TV platform in the U.S. — NBC Sports Network — will be closing shop this year.
In reality, it had two choices — play as it scheduled and run the risk of postponements, or sit out the year, not award a Stanley Cup and take their financial lumps though there would be no worries of COVID-19 disrupting the season.
A full-season bubble was out of the question, so the NHL tried to play, armed with that 54-page COVID manual, and said, “Game On!” Now, it’s going to put teams at greater risk for injury and potential illness with an even more condensed schedule, including the Golden Knights, who have three games to make up.
Too bad the virus can’t read. And too bad we won’t have hockey in Vegas for a couple more days. Hopefully, we’ll see the Golden Knights on the ice again Friday against the Kings. But given what we dealt with the past five days, when I see it, I’ll believe it.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**