Blittner’s Blue Line: A Slippery Slope

By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/

With the news early Monday that Columbus Blue Jackets Assistant Coach Sylvain Lefebvre was let go by the team for his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it got me thinking; how many more people will lose their jobs over this issue? And how will this affect the NHL’s upcoming season?

First things first, it is each and every single person’s individual right to choose whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Yes, the NHL, the NFL and the Government are all attempting to force people to get vaccinated; with good reason. But just because they want it doesn’t mean it has to be done. We live in a free society and have the right to choose. With that said, let’s get to how this affects hockey.

Teams carefully plan out and construct everything from the playing roster to the coaching staff to the front office and everything in between. They do it months in advance of a new season. So, with the 2021-22 season a month away, how many more abrupt plan changes are coming? 

What happens if more coaches are let go? What if players can’t play due to not being vaccinated or worse, contract COVID-19 and on top of having the virus, get suspended for not being vaccinated? What happens to a team’s plans then? 

Coming down with COVID-19 is bad enough and possibly getting suspended just adds insult to injury. In Lefebvre’s case, the Blue Jackets replaced him with Steve McCarthy, who had been the Associate Coach with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. But what if Head Coaches start getting let go? Will teams be able to adjust so easily?

What if an unvaccinated star player can’t play in a crucial game because the rules prevent it? What if that game has playoff implications? Let’s say “Player A,” who’s a star in the NHL, isn’t allowed to play in his team’s season-finale and the team needs two points to get into the playoffs AND the game is being nationally broadcast. What happens then? 

Sports talk shows have been raising this question for weeks now. And they use other sports’ stars as examples. What would CBS’ reaction have been had the NFL said Tom Brady wasn’t allowed to play in the Super Bowl because he was unvaccinated and the rules set forth by the league and the local government forbade him to play? Would an exception have been made to please the network who paid A LOT of money for the broadcast rights?

Translate that to hockey. What happens if, heaven forbid, Sidney Crosby were unvaccinated and the Penguins had to travel to Canada for Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final? Oh and the game is being broadcast across all of Canada and the United States on ESPN. 

The resulting chaos would make Twitter explode.

Hopefully, all of this remains nothing more than a hypothetical. But Monday’s announcement by the Blue Jackets carries a reminder that there will be many twists and turns during the upcoming NHL season.

By the way, with the season right around the corner, kudos to Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello for figuring out how to keep things even closer to the vest than before. Lamoriello, notorious for operating in secrecy, managed to hold off official announcements of contracts with several players this off-season, with Zach Parise being the latest example. He’s always been a tough nut to crack and with the remote nature of things Lamoriello has now become more guarded than ever with his information. Fort Knox has nothing on him. 

Speaking of Parise, Arthur Staple, who covers the Islanders for The Athletic, brought up a great point in his recent piece about how Parise has the chance to one-up his late father, J.P. Parise. 

J.P. played for the Islanders in the mid-70s and was the hero in the franchise’s first ever playoff series victory when he scored his overtime goal to stun the Rangers in 1975. Now, Zach has the chance to help bring a Stanley Cup to Long Island. And what a story it would be if Zach were to score The Cup-winning goal at the new UBS Arena. 

Meanwhile, over in Manhattan, the Rangers are looking to take a big step forward this year with new Head Coach Gerard Gallant running the show. The first few days of Prospect Camp have been intriguing and all eyes have been on defenseman Nils Lundkvist, who has as much hype as any prospect on Broadway in recent memory. We’ve heard about him ever since the Blueshirts drafted in 2018 and now that he’s finally come over from Sweden we’ll see what the kid’s all about. 

Opening Day for the Rangers is just 29 days away and Opening Day for the Islanders is 30 days away. That’s just enough time for New Yorkers everywhere to get ready for the opening face-offs.

Categories: Hockey

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