Saturday, 11 July 2020

More Opt Out

With the new NHL-NHLPA deal to restart this season, NHL players have until Monday at 11:59pm ET to decide whether or not they'll take part in the NHL playoffs when the games resume in August. We've already seen Calgary's Travis Hamonic opt out for a very good reason, and now three more players have informed their clubs that they won't be participating either as Edmonton's Mike Green, Boston's Steve Kampfer, Dallas' Roman Polak, Pittsburgh's Zach Trotman, Montreal's Karl Alzner, and Vancouver's Sven Baertschi have all confirmed they won't be attending the hub cities as well.

Mike Green cited family reasons for his decision in the same manner that Hamonic did.

"Due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and after much consideration, I've decided for deeply personal family health reasons, not to participate in the return to play," Green said in a statement. "This has been a hard decision knowing I’m going to miss the opportunity to compete in the playoffs with a Stanley Cup contender. I wish the best of luck to the guys and I appreciate the Edmonton Oilers support."

Mike and his wife, Courtney, have four year-old Axel, their son, and seven month-old Luca, their daughter, at home, and I imagine that neither of Mike or Courtney want to risk not only their own health, but the health of their children in any way to this virus. Again, I fully respect any player who puts the health and wellness of their family ahead of the personal gain in winning a Stanley Cup, so Mike Green has my full support in his decision. Well done, Mike.

Roman Polak's decision not to rejoin the Dallas Stars has been known for a while now as he announced back in June that he had no desire to return to the NHL when it decided to start up again. He made that official today by informing the Dallas Stars that he's not coming back.

Polak's time in the NHL may be done entirely after this as the big defender signed a three-year deal with HC Vitkovice in the Czech Extraliga in June, and his contract with the Stars will end once the 2019-20 season has concluded. The 34 year-old former Blues, Leafs, Sharks, and Stars defenceman has 26 goals and 114 assists in 806 NHL contests.

"I am already determined to stay at home," Polak told Pavel Barta of in June. "If I really had to finish the NHL, I would go. But I will do everything to make it unnecessary. I will definitely be here next season."

Sven Baertschi's opting out might be more of a case of circumstances as the Swiss-born forward had asked for a trade out of Vancouver prior to the shutdown after having spent most of this season with the AHL's Utica Comets. While Baertschi cited family reasons as the reason for his decision, one would have to think that Baertschi would opt to spend time with his family as opposed to being a black ace for the Canucks while sequestered inside his hotel room.

"Sven informed us late yesterday that he has chosen to opt out of the NHL return to play program," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "It was a difficult decision but ultimately one we respect and understand."

Baertschi had been skating with the Canucks in Vancouver as part of the Phase 2 plan, but it seems that he opted for family time over pressbox time with his decision after being one of three extra skaters that the Canucks invited to camp to begin preparations for the restart. I don't fault Baertschi for prioritizing his family over pressbox popcorn at all.

Steven Kampfer made the decision to not rejoin the Bruins in this year's restart after assessing his family's health and the risk that contracting the virus may put on them. Tara, his wife, and their son both have congenital heart defects, as Steven revealed, and his decision was a direct result of how the virus may affect them if he were to contract it.

Steven wrote via Twitter,
"After speaking with my wife, family and my agent I have decided that I am opting out of their return to play. This was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make. My wife and son have a congenital heart defect which can cause complications with COVID-19. We have taken this very seriously. Family will always be my priority."
Like Hamonic, this decision should never be questioned. While it was expected that Kampfer might play a larger role for the Bruins in the playoffs, his choice to put family ahead of the game is why he'll always have my respect. Well done, Steve.

Zach Trotman informed the Pittsburgh Penguins he won't be playing in Toronto after he opted out of the restart. Trotman suffers from asthma, so this seems like a very well-informed decision. It should also be noted that Trotman's wife is expecting their first baby, so Trotman likely wants to be there for that moment as well. Either way, this decision by Trotman seems like a very family-oriented decision based on that knowledge.

"We don't get into injuries but it's something that he's trying to work through that could flare when we get into the 'bubble,'" Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said during a conference call with local reporters on Saturday. "And we didn't want to take that chance."

It seems weird that a basic injury could "flare" when in the bubble after Trotman has been skating in Pittsburgh already, so it sounds like it might be more of a precautionary measure that Trotman is taking. Again, I have no issue with players looking after themselves or their families when it comes to health and safety so this seems like the right preventative move if that's the underlying reason for keeping Trotman off the postseason roster.

In saying that, it also sounds like Rutherford will skip the trip to Toronto as the 71 year-old is in that "high-risk" category for the virus. This also seems like the right move, although there's less need for NHL general managers to be in any building at this point in the season. Good on Rutherford for looking out for his health on this one, though.

The last player who has opted out thus far is Montreal Canadiens defenceman Karl Alzner. The Canadiens didn't provide a reason for Alzner's decision, but I suspect that playing with the AHL's Laval Rocket for the majority of this season would have something to do with it. Alzner likely would have sat in the pressbox for the Canadiens, so it sounds like the 31 year-old defender opted for family time over pressbox popcorn like Baertschi did.

Needless to say, the list of players opting out is growing, and it seems that the majority of these players have very good reasons to not risk their own health or the health of their families by playing. It makes little sense for anyone at this stage to put their health at risk after knowing what this virus can do internally to people, so let's take nothing away from these players with these decisions and hold nothing against them for protecting the ones they love.

They'll return to the ice when it's safe to do so. That's the most important part of this equation.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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