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Other Sports Seeing Players Opt Out, Will Hockey Too?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

When it comes to Coronavirus, people’s opinions are like fingerprints. Everyone has them, but no two are the same.

For some, they act like the virus doesn’t exist, carrying on about their everyday life without a care in the world (for themselves or others). While others treat it like contracting the virus means certain death for all. Most fall somewhere in between but everyone’s opinion shapes their decision making and due to the lack of hard facts available, it’s impossible to truly challenge anyone’s actions.

With the NHL set to unveil their plans for Phase 3 and 4 of the return to play plan, we’re going to have to brace for the range of opinions, and actions, that will come with it from players.

Since the announcement of the playoff format and the opening of voluntary training camps as Phase 2, hockey is been the quietest sport regarding those challenging the sport’s return.

In the NBA and WNBA, it feels like every day another player announces he or she is dropping out and will not head to the bubble. MLB finally came to an agreement on how their season will resume and with it has come a rash of their players saying they’re out. Golf, tennis, and soccer have all seen it to a degree too. The NHL may very well be next.

Hockey has a much different culture than most other North American sports. It’s very team-oriented and players will go to great lengths to keep the spotlight off themselves.

I haven’t heard anything (about players opting out) and I’ve been on a couple calls and that hasn’t really been a thing. I think there’s a lot of discussion about what would happen. Obviously there are health risks for sure so it’s something you’ve got to be careful with and I think the NHL, especially our staff, has done an outstanding job of following the protocols and making sure everyone’s safe. -Brayden McNabb

However, the virus has a powerful impact on the actions of athletes, especially when it comes to their families.

The NHL’s concept is still in an abstract form with the idea of “hub cities” hosting the games. Once the league confirms specific details about living accommodations, testing protocols, family involvement, and everything else that goes along with creating a virus-free bubble, players may speak up and likely act upon those words as well.

Players opting out is just another unknown that comes with the NHL’s attempt to resume the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup.

Hockey may or may not see it happen, but don’t be surprised if it does.

Will Positive Tests Around The League Affect The Golden Knights Preparation?

Yesterday was a tough day for the NHL and their attempt to award a 2020 Stanley Cup champion. News broke that the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily shut down their facilities due to three players and two staff members testing positive for Covid-19. The anxiety escalated even more when it was reported that Toronto Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews tested positive as well. Leaving fans concerned for the players and their return to the ice.

Locally, it’s been quiet. According to GM Kelly McCrimmon, none of the Golden Knights players have contracted or been exposed to the coronavirus.

Since NHL clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19… All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will provide a weekly update on the numbers of tests administered to players and the results of those tests. The league will not be providing information on the identity of the players or their clubs. -NHL PR

With the latest news from around the league, the question around Las Vegas is how will this affect the Golden Knights and their preparations?

So far 11 NHL players have tested positive since June 8th. However, over 200 players have been tested multiple times and results came back negative. While the positive test news may sound grim, it doesn’t appear it will delay the opening of training camps scheduled to begin on July 10th. Even if more players fall ill, according to the league it won’t impact the Golden Knights groundwork.

The league had a conference call with all of the general managers tonight, and I think the word is ‘let’s see where this goes.’ I don’t think there’s any movement at this point in time of changing the opening of camps on July 10th. I think they’ve set it so the final day of the Stanley Cup Final, if it happens on schedule is October 5th. -Elliotte Friedman, SportsNet

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Return To Ice Not The Same As Return To Court

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The NBA has made waves this week with reports indicating that the league will re-open practice facilities where local restrictions are eased on Friday (May 1st).

UPDATE (4/27/20 12:54 PM) – The NBA has confirmed they are planning on reopening facilities on May 8th.

With the NHL having shut down just one day later than the NBA and having experienced a far lower percentage of COVID-19 cases among players and staff, it’s reasonable to believe hockey should follow close behind basketball.

However, there’s a major hurdle standing in the way of the NHL that the NBA does not have to deal with. That’s ice.

Just about every NBA player has had access to a basketball hoop during the pause and all of them have had access to flat ground. An incredibly limited number of hockey players have had access to ice. Meaning no ice-skating, no puck handling on ice, no shooting on ice, no actual training for ice hockey.

Sure, many players are using their sticks to juggle rolls of toilet paper, and they are probably even using them to practice handling pucks too, but there’s nothing on land that can replicate playing hockey on ice (yes, I’m aware of the plastic ice sheets that exist, but it’s not the same and very few if any players have access to those at home).

And even more important than the actual skills involved in playing hockey is simply the conditioning that goes along with it. Players usually spend about a month or so off the ice in the offseason but gradually work their way back up to participating in training camp before playing meaningless preseason games and eventually regular season games.

When the NHL season resumes, there will be a training camp, but players will be expected to go from a dead stop to playoff speed and intensity in about six weeks.

Aside from the potential injury effects, there’s a fairness aspect that has to be considered by the league. If a few teams are able to get on the ice in May, while others have to wait until June or July, the early teams will have a massive advantage.

This is going to serve as a significant obstacle to the league’s return to play. They have little choice but to open all facilities to all players at the same time. Amid the pandemic, that’s certainly seeming unlikely in many states (see California and New York to name a few).

The Golden Knights are in a state that currently appears ready to be gearing up to re-open, which likely could include the unlocking of the doors at City National Arena very soon. However, even if the Governor allows it, the league shouldn’t until every team has the same access to ice.

It’s going to be frustrating if/when it happens. Other leagues will begin opening up for training while the NHL must sit and wait for the sake of fairness. And it’s going to be especially frustrating in states like Nevada where the rest of the businesses are back in action while the one we all really want to open back up remains on hold due to the virus’ grip on other parts of the country.

That’s just part of life in a sport played on an unnatural surface. The league should do the right thing and open back up fairly. Otherwise, Drew Doughty might end up being right after all.

Do Players Care If The Media Are Around Or Not?

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

For decades, locker rooms have been a common area for players and media to gather after games and after practices. It’s an interesting dynamic, as credentialed men and women get to bombard athletes with positive or negative questions about the outcome of the game. It’s regulated by the club and the league, however it’s mostly a free-for-all and the millionaire players have to suck it up. Or else they get reprimanded and/or look terrible in the public eye.

That was pre-NHL pause.

With health concerns of groups larger than ten, it would be impossible to allow that process to continue. Heck, at this point in time there are too many players for one locker room. So, while there’s uncertainty among the media and players, we all understand things could drastically change.

I don’t think they should be… It’s just intrusive. I would co-sign the idea that we shouldn’t eliminate all access. -JJ Redick, NBA Forward

NBA sharpshooter JJ Redick on The Ringer podcast last week discussed the NBA freeze. The conversation transitioned to the relationship between players and the media, and how Redick would like more restrictions once play resumes.

Redick’s gripe sounds a bit NBA’ish. There are fewer players on a team, and more media covering basketball. Plus, the NBA allows media lockerroom access before game, which doesn’t exist in the NHL. However, there are elements to his complaints that every player in any league would agree with.

Camera guys are in the lockerroom during the media availability and they’re filming you while you are getting dressed… Why are you filming me when I’m putting my tights on? Why do you need to know how I tie my shoes? That feels a little weird too me. -Redick

I often wondered if Golden Knights players were overwhelmed or annoyed dealing with the media every day. Let’s face it, many of us couldn’t compose ourselves as well as they do after a bad loss. Over the past few years, I’ve asked players how they felt about their media responsibilities and came away with different responses.

Since all of these questions were off the record, I won’t reveal the players’ names but they all had a common theme. The bottom line, the Golden Knights know it’s part of their jobs, and they recognize it’s a way to connect with fans. One player said he enjoyed it and had fun chatting it up with the media. Another player told me he’s so used to it that it’s part of his routine. A third player explained, it wasn’t often he spoke in postgame scrums, so when he did it usually meant his contributions helped the team win.

As expected, their moods change after a loss. Most players don’t look forward to the media rush after dropping two points, but again, they understand their role. If an individual player missed an open shot, turned the puck over, or gave up the game-winning goal those players will likely answer the bell. One player hinted if they are good enough to make millions of dollars playing the sport, they can handle the heat after a loss.

A player that caused his team to lose would rather take the needling questions from the media then have his teammate do it for him. Also, certain players don’t want to be known only for answering questions after a win, and ducking out after a loss. It’s bad for their image, and some feel like they’re letting down the fans. Again, these are proud, honest NHL players we’re dealing with, not other professional athletes.

The overall feeling I got after a few casual conversations was that Vegas players want a genuine working relationship with the media. As long as it’s respectful, players don’t mind giving 5-8 minutes of their time after a win or loss. However the NHL decides to regulate the flow of media it will be completely foreign for both parties. One thing is for sure, the players will adjust quicker. Realistically, they are players and would rather focus on playing hockey. They won’t mind the change because there’s a good chance they get their locker room back and get to keep it for themselves.

It’s up to us at to work within the forthcoming new accessibility rules to bring information and content fans expect. If not, you all have full access to harass Ken and I. We can handle the heat.

Poll: 70% Will Attend Golden Knights Games

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Last week Seton Hall University conducted a poll asking fans their level of concern attending a sporting event after the threat of COVID-19 is gone. The Stillman School of Business canvassed what fans would do if the leagues resumed play before there was a coronavirus vaccine? The results were lopsided.

72% of those who responded to the poll said they would not feel safe attending games until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is developed.

Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before there was a vaccine, 12 percent said in the poll released on Thursday that they would attend but only if social distancing could be maintained.

Only 13 percent said they would feel safe. The poll run by the Sharkey Institute within the Stillman School of Business was conducted over April 6-8 with 762 respondents. -Steve Keating, Reuters

The university polled under 800 sports fans who overwhelmingly showed hesitation about returning to a venue without a successful vaccine. Something, we’re all concerned with. However, the numbers seemed broad, and possibly too regional. Seton Hall is in New Jersey, a state devastated by the coronavirus, and the poll participants were mostly sports enthusiasts from the NY/NJ area.

So, we decided to get a little more precise and ask a similar question to Golden Knights fans. The results were optimistically different.

With over 2300 votes, the poll found a much different response than the one conducted back East. Surprisingly, 48% clicked they would feel safe returning to a Golden Knights game after the league resumed and 70% said they would be willing to attend a game. Compared to the 13% of respondents from the Seton Hall poll.

Locally, Vegas residents are proactively isolating and keeping their distance as the governor told us to. However, many believe this is only temporary and the poll positively reflects that.

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Golden Knights Continuing To Step Up For Community

(Photo Credit: Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It seems like every day either the organization or a player is announcing a new program or donation to support the Vegas community during these trying times. So much so that it’s hard to keep up.

So we wanted to take a moment to highlight each and every one of them and we’ll make sure to keep this article updated with any new initiatives or donations that are made in the future.

$1,000,000 to the Nevada COVID-19 Response, Relief and Recovery Task Force

The Creator and Vegas Golden Knights Foundation have donated $1 million to the task force set up by Governor Sisolak and headed by former MGM CEO Jim Murren.

The money will be used to purchase necessary supplies, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including surgical masks, N95-equivalent CDC-approved respirator masks, medical gloves, and medical gowns.

Support VGK part-time employees for all games missed

Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK players, and The Creator have committed a minimum of $500,000 to pay T-Mobile Arena employees for any games that are canceled.

This includes third-party vendors, service providers, food and beverage employees, retail associates, medical staff, event personnel, production and cleaning operations. Also the entire VGK Cast and Crew – including in-arena hosts, PA announcer, Vegas Vivas!, Golden Belles, Knights Guard, Knight Line, the dj, The Golden Knight, music director, camera operators, control room crew, Battle Wagon driver, Villain and Watchman – and the drivers of the ice resurfacers. Vegas Golden Knights interns who work game days across all the VGK business teams will also be assisted by these efforts. Also the 51/49 raffle staff.

These funds are expected to be paid when the NHL officially announces that games have been canceled as opposed to postponed.

7,500 meals to doctors, nurses and employees at local hospitals

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Carp: A Hockey Season Without Spectators?

**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**

Let me give you a scenario and see if you could live with it.

The NHL decides it is safe for its players to resume playing, but not necessarily O.K. for fans to enter arenas to watch. Instead, the league opts to essentially turn their sport into a television studio event, like a soap opera.

You can watch, but there’s no studio audience as would be the case with, say, a game show. You can’t come inside. You can’t interact with the players. No signs asking for pucks. No dancing for the video board above center ice. No music to groove to.

How about this? The NHL hosts regional playoffs at neutral site cities. The Eastern Conference’s first and second rounds are played in Ottawa, the Western Conference plays in Minneapolis-St. Paul. But you still wouldn’t be able to attend.

Would you take either of those options? Or would you insist that no hockey be played until everyone could once again partake of the entire experience and be allowed inside their home team’s building?

I know what my answer would be. Give me the studio version of the NHL, including the playoffs. As long as every team’s game is shown for free in some fashion, I’m in.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly gave a frank assessment of the situation the other day when he told the league is monitoring the coronavirus situation on a daily basis with medical and health officials and it will not resume the season until it is safe for the players, coaches, and officials to participate. Even the medical and science experts can’t predict when things will take a turn for the better.

Social distancing doesn’t exist on the ice. Players are engaged in a contact sport. This isn’t like a Public Service Announcement I saw the other day in which New York Rangers legend and Hall of Famer Rod Gilbert told New Yorkers to keep a hockey stick’s length from each other as a way to properly socially distance themselves from each other. Frankly, I thought Gilbert should have borrowed Zdeno Chara’s stick for the PSA. It would have been a more effective visual.

Nonetheless, that’s not realistic in any kind of hockey game. Even a group of Mites playing are going to make contact with each other. So the NHL is absolutely right to make sure it’s safe for the players to compete against each other before it resumes its season.

The fans are a different story. You can play hockey games without people in the stands. And that’s why the NHL might want to rethink the idea of going right back into its arenas while the coronavirus is impacting the country.

Thursday, radio host Brian Blessing and I talked on his show Vegas Hockey Hotline about the idea of playing games in practice facilities until it’s safe to let people inside the arenas. Many teams have very nice places to practice, with the Golden Knights’ City National Arena arguably the NHL’s best. There are places to set up television cameras, the Knights already have their locker room. The visiting team’s quarters could be UNLV’s locker room. It would be spartan by NHL standards but when the Knights went to the other team’s place, they would deal with it too.

As for the rink itself, it reminds me of the scene in the movie Hoosiers when Gene Hackman took out the tape measure at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and told his team, “You’ll find these are the exact same measurements as our gym back home.” The ice at CNA is the exact same size as T-Mobile Arena — 200 by 85 feet. And if it means playing in July, the quality of the ice stands a better chance of holding up in a smaller building with fewer people inside it.

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