When the Philadelphia Flyers winger missed practice over the weekend, no injury, illness or other reason was given. That is the NHL’s mandatory rule during the pandemic, adding another layer of secrecy to a sport already infamous for disclosing — at most — vague “upper body” and “lower body” injuries.
“I know we are in a different situation than normal people, but on the other hand, it’s our health,” Voracek said. “We deserve to have some privacy as well, especially in times like that.”
“Unfit to participate” has become the new catch-all term since training camps opened July 13 ahead of the Aug. 1 resumption of the season. The league has prohibited teams from disclosing whether a player is injured, ill, potentially exposed to the coronavirus or simply waiting for a test result.
Saying nothing leads to speculation when prominent players like Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby or Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford are missing from practice. But it’s not going to change. Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly said that other than leaguewide testing results, individual player status won’t be revealed “for purposes of making the system work.”
“I think there’s positives to it and negatives,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said Tuesday. “Instead of having to guess or make a statement that turns out not to be true, it’s just like, ‘He’s not available.’ And that’s how it is.”
Major League Baseball has a similar policy for medical privacy during its 60-game regular season, even when players are put on the injured list.
No such list exists for the NHL as it goes directly into a 24-team playoff, and there is currently no plan to advise gamblers, daily fantasy players or fans of a player’s availability — even without reason — on game day. Of course, not disclosing injuries in the NHL playoffs is just a rite of spring or, in this case, summer and fall.
“I’m fine with it,” said Dan Hamhuis, a 37-year-old Nashville defenseman. “It’s never been a big deal for me to know what the other team’s injuries are. If they mention a certain body part of a player, it’s not like we’re going to go attack that. We’re playing against them anyway. Privacy’s nice to have when you’re dealing with different health issues, especially this time with the coronavirus.”
The league’s hope is the virus won’t infiltrate its two quarantined hubs in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, where all games will be held. One of the biggest concerns shared by players, coaches and executives is just getting through two weeks of training camp with players going home to their families from the rink.
Doug Armstrong, general manager of defending champion St. Louis, emphasized to his players on a team group chat the importance of taking care of themselves during this time. Carolina forward Justin Williams and his teammates had a discussion about the same thing early in camp, that it would take discipline from players and those around them to avoid an outbreak.
“You need to tighten up the bubble of people you’re hanging out with,” Williams said. “You need to make your inner circle pretty darn small because what you do affects everybody else. That’s pretty much the basis of what a team is anyway. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. But at this point, your weakest link can take down your whole team.”
Players, coaches and staff are tested every other day now, and that will be increased to daily once they get to Toronto or Edmonton. There’s also an expectation that players who routinely play through pain and injuries will be forthright about reporting symptoms just as they’re asked to do under the league’s concussion protocol.
With privacy comes that responsibility.
“If concussions were contagious, I think players would feel differently about it,” said Mathieu Schneider, a retired defenseman and special assistant to the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. “I think the guys certainly understand the notion that if they are not honest with symptoms or how they might feel that they put their entire team in jeopardy.”
Based on the NHL’s report that just two of 800 players tested in the first week of team practices were positive for the virus, most absences are probably injury, testing or quarantine-related. But as they continue to happen, the public just won’t know why.
“These players are competing for the Stanley Cup under unique circumstances and their health and their privacy I think is really important,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “And my hope is that we can all be respectful of that.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow and Sports Writers Dan Gelston, Teresa M. Walker, Jay Cohen and Aaron Beard contributed.