In a nation, and continent, where we are divided by politics, something as simple as a St. Louis Blues hockey game is supposed to bring us together. When they can actually take the ice, it actually does just that.
Unfortunately, all the nonsense surrounding the sport is making it difficult to understand any of it. It’s definitely an odd time to be alive.
Before we get into this, let me say this is not a statement about vaccinations or views on the virus that is plaguing the world right now. It is an indictment of how decision makers are handling things.
As Blues fans, we have long felt somewhat slighted by the NHL community. Even though we have been placed in two Winter Classics, hosted an All-Star Game and won a Stanley Cup in the last five years, there’s always this feeling of being the outsider.
National broadcasts rarely feel like they focus on the Blues. As a broadcaster, I know that you’ll never please both sides, but it’s hard not to hear certain inflection in the voices when the opponent scores and slight disappointment if the Blues win.
You do your best to think it’s all in your head. The league has no real vested interest in who wins or loses, other than getting a slightly better television rating if you have two big-market teams in the championship. The reality is that they’ve collected their advertising revenue by then, so those numbers are only used as selling points for the following seasons.
Yet, it’s difficult to think the Blues are not treated differently based on how the league is handling this current round of the pandemic. There is little information given to the fans and even less about why decisions are made.
Entering the year 2022, the Blues have had a total of 14 players on the covid list at one point or another. St. Louis has not missed a game because of that.
The Blues had two games postponed on their Canadian road trip. That was due to the decisions of the Canadian government to tighten restrictions, though the league said it was their decision. How it made sense to return home once you were already in Canada and ready to play the games is beyond me, but I’m not the one making those calls.
The only other Blues game postponed was their December 27 game against the New Jersey Devils. Again, this was a league decision, or so we are told, to push back the restart of the season following the holiday break.
Coming out of the break, the Blues found out they had an additional four players put into protocols. In one announcement, their total went from 10 to 14. The Blues still played their December 29 home game against the Edmonton Oilers.
Why mention all of this? Because there have been plenty of games postponed because teams had too many players in protocol.
The Dallas Stars against the Arizona Coyotes was postponed four days before the game because both teams had players in protocol. This postponement came after the league announced they were bringing back the taxi squad option and relaxing the salary hit from emergency call ups.
So, the Blues continue to play in spite of missing players, but other teams are told they get to rest and get guys healthy? What is the cutoff? How many players need to be missing for a game to be postponed? Who makes these decisions when you have teams and players willing to play, but some aren’t allowed and some are?
Do the Blues get to decide to push through even though they’ve had MAYBE one game in 2021-22 where they’ve had their full roster? Does the league just not care because the positive cases were spread out?
Those are answers we never get. We have no clue why the league decides to postpone some games and not others. No offense, but it feels like big market teams like those in New York or Dallas are treated a little differently.
The Blues are not the only team affected by this, as the entire league apparently has to play by certain rules in some places and other rules in different places. Despite the assumption the league would return as normal after the holidays, several games in Canadian cities have already been postponed through mid-January.
Seriously? We somehow magically know that teams won’t be healthy and fans cannot be in attendance more than two weeks out from a game? What sense does this make?
Those that are not cynical at this point still fall back on those in charge knowing better. Articles tell us the Canadian government will simply continue to rely on their strategy of close in the walls, contain things and then see as though that has kept this at bay or will.
That’s not a sentiment held by all, even those of Canadian decent. Plenty of players are starting to voice their displeasure with all of this.
Steve Yzerman, a hero of both the Detroit Red Wings and Team Canada, spoke out against the random decisions. “Players are testing positive with very little symptoms, if any symptoms at all,” said Yzerman as reported by ClickOnDetroit. “I don’t see it as a threat to their health at this point, so I think you might take it a step further and question why are we even testing for guys that have no symptoms?”
Connor Hellebuyck, an American goaltender who plays in a Canadian city, echoed those sentiments. Around the same time period, Hellebuyck wondered why the restrictions are done in the name of safety but only seem to hurt people. While almost everyone can admit that health and safety are more important than a game, Hellebuyck’s point was that we’ve reached a spot in time where people need escape and enjoyment. Instead of being able to provide that, the NHL has just made spot decisions and randomly shut down games.
This is not all on the NHL. They just get our focus because we are fans of an NHL team.
Team USA and Team Canada women were having a series of games leading up to the Olympics. They cancelled a game in Minnesota and some in Canada. The game in Minnesota was called off hours before the game and ticket holders were not notified ahead of time. Social media was littered with upset parents having to tell their kids they would not be going to the game and about how hotel reservations went to waste.
Circling back to the Blues, part of the decision to send Jake Neighbours back to his junior team was to give him the opportunity to play in the World Junior Championships. That tournament was called off just two or three games in.
Fans on both sides of the equation were upset about that. Those that still think some form of protocol works wondered why the tournament was not played in a bubble. On the opposite side, much like the NHL player situation, many wondered why a once in a lifetime chance had to be taken away if some players had no symptoms.
On a pure hockey note, the Blues lose out on valuable scouting time. While it’s likely Neighbours is an NHL player next season, they could have gotten a good look at Tanner Dickinson of Team USA. Dickinson only played three games in 2020, so even though he’s already drafted, the Blues need him to get as much ice time as possible.
They don’t get to utilize the tournament to scout any undrafted players either. As fans, we now have to wonder if the team might have made a different decision on Neighbours if they knew the WJC would not be played.
Granted, their hands were tied by the inability to send him to the minors, but given the amount of players the Blues have lost to injury or protocol, Neighbours would have gained just as much from staying in St. Louis as he has with the WHL and World Juniors cancelling or postponing games. It’s all just a mess.
Again, if you actually stop and talk to rational people on either side of this issue, everyone wants everyone to be safe and healthy. However, eventually, we have to decide when we are allowed to live again.
You might argue that these are all millionaires and they’re not hurting. However, you’re messing with the livelihoods of thousands of people by making knee-jerk decisions.
Hockey players are constantly thrown out of rhythm when they don’t know if their next game will be played or not. Scouts can’t make travel plans if they don’t know whether a player they’re interested in is going to play.
Make it even more localized. Plenty of people depend on the income they gain by working at Enterprise Center, or any of the many arenas around North America. If they’re living paycheck to paycheck, missing one game is really going to hurt them, let alone two to five.
Admittedly, this article spread out lots of ways and might not seem overly coherent. That’s because the subject matter doesn’t make sense now, if it ever did.
At least in the past, we were able to say this action or that action is in attempt to slow things down or get a better understanding of the situation. Now, it’s just random people in charge making random decisions and the little guy has no clue where it comes from.
We can point the finger at the Canadian government, but what good does that do? We can blame the NHL, and they deserve plenty, but they’re between a rock and a hard place with their decisions since they’re a largely ticket revenue based league.
The bottom line is players want to play and, for the most part, fans want to go. However, adults are now treated like children by entities that really don’t know any more than we do.
Hopefully things even out in the end. It’s definitely a frustrating time.