With reports continuing to peg Toronto as one of the two leading candidates to be hub cities in the NHL’s Return To Play plan — Las Vegas being the other one — Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was asked how he’d like to play all his playoff games at Scotiabank Arena.
That’s the home of the Maple Leafs, against whom his Bruins have played two tight series that the B’s needed seven games to decide in their favor the past two years.
Granted, no fans will be allowed in the buildings, but his feelings were mixed.
“We’ve played well in that rink in the playoffs for the most part, so that’s a positive,” said Cassidy on Monday. “There’s 12 teams from the East so the chances you bump into them? Who knows, right? That would be speculation. But I think it is an advantage (for the Leafs). If someone told me we could play at the Garden, I’d happily do it first and foremost than travel somewhere else. I do believe there is not a home crowd advantage, but there is some advantage to being in your own city, some advantage being in your own building, your own locker room, etc. That’s the part I’d disagree with the league, but again I don’t think it’s an easy decision to find the right spot.”
While the league and the Players Association continue to negotiate the hub cities and myriad other health and labor-related issues before it can begin its Phase 3 (training camp) — scheduled to start July 10 — Cassidy discussed various topics on a Zoom call.
The league announced that 26 players have thus far tested positive for COVID-19 of which it is aware, 15 inside of Phase 2 (voluntary workouts) and 11 outside of Phase 2. All players have self-isolated. The announcement did not specify how many of those players were symptomatic. The Bruins had announced two weeks ago that one player had tested positive. He was asymptomatic and had two subsequent negative tests.
Prior to the league’s announcement, Cassidy said that thus far no Bruin has expressed a reluctance to participate in the 24-team tournament. But if a player did voice that hesitance?
“I’d try to get to the root of it,” said Cassidy. “What is it? Is it simply a health issue or is there something deeper in there? Obviously we’d have to poll management and have a discussion with that player and if that’s the way he felt, then I don’t know how we’d stop him. To me, it would be that simple. It’s the player’s right to work in a safe environment.
“And that’s why I think the NHL is doing everything they can. They don’t want this to happen. They want all their players participating, so that’s the challenge they have. But that’s the way we’d handle it. We’d have to have an internal discussion, see if there’s something that could make them feel more comfortable in the decision as well on the medical side, so that’s another area we’d have to look at. What is your exact concern? Maybe Dr. So-and-So could answer that question for you and go from there and see if it puts them more at ease. But at the end of the day, if that’s the way they feel, then I think we’d have to honor their request.”
Cassidy expects 28 or 30 skaters to be allowed in camp — he wasn’t sure of the number yet. The league has not put a cap on goalies, but the coach expects the B’s will have four — Tuukka Rask, Jaroslav Halak, Daniel Vladar and Maxime Lagace.
While a couple of Providence players like Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic have surged this year, Cassidy said it won’t be easy for them to push anyone out of a spot.
“The obvious scenario is necessity, which is injury or if there’s a positive test within the group. Otherwise, we have confidence in our guys,” said Cassidy. “We had a strong regular season, we used different players, we have depth, realistically 15 forwards and eight defensemen all played. In that regard, they would have to excel to push out someone who’s done a good job for us.
“But the other area could be if a player comes in and conditioning-wise he’s not there yet. We should have enough time to get him where it needs to be but if that’s not the case and one of these younger guys has more to give then we’ll certainly consider it. That’s the facts of it. It’s a short window to get it right, so there’ll be some tough calls to make if players aren’t up to speed in a hurry.”
Cassidy expects one of the biggest challenges will be to keep his players focused while many of the integral social aspects of the game — shared workouts, team dinners, etc. — are stripped away or severely curtailed because of coronavirus precautions.
“That’s going to be one of the biggest hurdles to get them over, because there’s going to be some griping,” said Cassidy. “It’s going to be different from the way it was. So we have to get the players in a good mindset in terms of focusing on what we can control, which is once you get on the ice and play the game. That will be the challenge for us, to make sure the players are focused on the ultimate prize and not all the stuff going on around them. And I don’t mean (that they shouldn’t) worry about their safety. I’m just talking about the hurdles you’ll have to go through that you wouldn’t typically do when you come here. …
“There are always sacrifices in playoff hockey, and these ones might be a little different than in years past, so that’s going to be our message. We have to make the appropriate sacrifices to get our name on the Cup.”