Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The Show Must Go On?

That's a pretty spiffy logo for this weekend's games, right? The Lake Tahoe outdoor event happens in front of zero total fans this weekend as the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche will tangle while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will engage in the second game. With three of these teams coming off COVID protocols in the NHL - Minnesota, Colorado, and Philadelphia - this presents all sorts of interesting dynamics for Boston who haven't been hit by the virus yet. The drama surrounding this weekend's games is already high, and we haven't seen a puck on the ice yet.

Further this, Philadelphia is apparently playing their backups tomorrow in New York thanks to having six players still sidelined due to COVID protocols, and those on the sideline include star players such as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, and Travis Konecny along with Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, and Justin Braun. If Philadelphia is going to bring the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to play the Bruins, what's the point?

Word out of Philadelphia today is that the team skated 24 players in practice, up from 16 on Tuesday when some were still going through quarantine. However, there's no guarantee that the likes of Giroux, Voracek, and Konecny will be taken off the league's COVID-19 quarantine list before the weekend, but the thought is that the NHL is "encouraging" the Flyers to make the best of it so they can participate in Lake Tahoe for this outdoor hockey spectacle. If they can survive the Rangers on Thursday, it the seems the thought is that they'll be fine to take the ice against the Bruins.

Some have whispered quietly, though, that had Lake Tahoe not been on the schedule for the Flyers, they would have been given more time to recover. Philadelphia's games against the Washington Capitals were postponed back on February 9 when three players tested positive and there was fear that contract tracing would reveal cases which is exactly what happened.

Compare that to the New Jersey Devils who had seventeen players on the COVID quarantine report at one point, and played their first game on Tuesday after being off since January 31. The Flyers get a week to try and put a lid on their COVID outbreak and still have marquee players on the quaratine list, but the Devils get more than two weeks? How is that fair for the Flyers when it comes to winning games if their best players can't play, but they're being forced to play because the NHL has their outdoor spectacle to fulfill?

I don't doubt that the Flyers want to play in the outdoor games this weekend. It sounds like it's going to be an incredible visual event, but the Flyers aren't a traveling hockey show. They're a professional hockey team whose goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If they lose games because they're either choosing to or being forced to play (or a combination of both) and don't win the Stanley Cup this season, you have to wonder if this entire ordeal was worth it when they could have had more time to recover had they opted out of Lake Tahoe.

We already know how heavily the NHL relies on the outdoor games as major cash-printing operations. People flock to the stadiums and venue where they're being held, and the seating capacity at those venues are at least double of what an NHL arena holds. The merchandise, the concessions, the parking, the fanfests before and after the games, and all of the offshoot sponsorships for that one weekend is a dump of money into the NHL's coffers.

If I were a Philadelphia fan and had this event been open to fans, I likely would have tried to go. Lake Tahoe is a beautiful area that deserves to be hiked and explored, and seeing the Flyers play there would have been an excellent trip. We know fans aren't going, but had I forked over all that money to go and stay and watch only to find out that Giroux, Voracek, and Konecny might not play would chap my rear end something fierce. I want to see the Flyers' best players in that setting against the Bruins' best players.

I know that this is the NHL and that "the show must go on", but would you pay top dollar to see The Beatles play if John, Paul, George, and Ringo didn't take the stage while four unknown blokes from London did?

It seems the NHL is hellbent on having this game between the Flyers and Bruins no matter the cost to players' lives or well-being, and it's pretty easy to see that this is yet another high-profile event where making money is given a higher priority than the players or the spirit of competition between the teams. I feel like I should be disgusted by this, but the NHL has soured my appetite for these spectacles long ago so I'll just watch and pretend I'm interested, I guess.

Maybe the Flyers' taxi squad can down Marchand, Bergeron, and the boys on the weekend with a spirited effort in Lake Tahoe. We've seen plucky squads pull off upsets before, and this might be one of those times. At the end of the day, though, asking the Flyers to "play through this" is just tactless and cruel when other teams have been allowed to use as much time as they needed to get through COVID-19 problems.

But the show must go on, right?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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