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What will the Canadiens, and the NHL, do for Black Lives Matter?

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Some players showed their support while the league was on pause, but what about when the game returns?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Hockey is finally back. But where will the game’s dial on its social justice compass be?

The National Hockey League’s Return to Play protocol will see this year’s expanded playoffs take place in two hub cities, following other North American leagues’ returns like Major League Soccer, the National Basketball Association, the National Women’s Soccer League and — for now at least — Major League Baseball.

All of those leagues, in some way, have paid some kind of tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been re-energized since the death of George Floyd in late May.

The NHL’s teams tried to address it through team statements, to mixed results, but some individual players like Tyler Seguin, Zdeno Chara, and Jonathan Toews were commended for their support and their desire to be educated further. Of course, the league was already under fire for how it had handled racism in its ranks, including that experienced by players like Akim Aliu and K’Andre Miller in recent months.

But as games resume and other leagues show their support, it’s fair to ask: What will the NHL do to show more to side with the movement as it returns to action? There’s reason to believe something could happen.

The Boston Bruins, a franchise known for having the league’s first ever Black player in Willie O’Ree, said they will lock arms as their way of showing solidarity with the Black community.

The Toronto Maple Leafs wore Black Lives Matter t-shirts during a practice in Toronto earlier this month.

But we’re still left in the dark on other teams in the bubble and what they might do, and the few teams who’ve already played in the exhibition games already might not have done enough.

They certainly need to be more direct than the pre-game gestures done during Tuesday and Wednesday’s exhibition games, which saw teams stand next to each other during the anthem in the name of “social justice.” The intent may have been there, but it’s a safe, blanket statement that could have been interpreted as anything else; during the Habs-Leafs game, Sportsnet play-by-play man Jim Hughson mentioned the players were also standing together in honour of front-line workers.

The one-unity-move-fits-all plan doesn’t work.

Perhaps the Bruins will improve on what the Flyers and Penguins did Tuesday, but standing next to each other during the playing of the Canadian and American National Anthems isn’t the most impactful move.

Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask also wore a “Boston Police” hat hours after his team’s statement in an interview with NBCSN, so their statement could pass as disingenuous because of the police’s role in their brutality and injustice toward Black people.

A representative from the Montreal Canadiens organization says they’re “unsure” how the team will honour Black Lives Matter, but insists the league has plans to incorporate the movement and social justice in their game presentation.

While whatever the league or its teams do could be seen as pandering, the bar has been set so low for teams that them doing anything would be seen as significant. Especially since the league is made up of mostly white players, who can make a difference in stopping and bringing attention to injustice.

The next step, of course, is for teams and players to go beyond standing together before a game or wearing t-shirts. The Hockey Diversity Alliance, bringing the NHL’s Black players together, is one start. Patrice Bergeron’s $25,000 donations to NAACP Boston and the Centre Multiethnique de Quebec, putting his money where his mouth is, is another.

But it seems the NHL needs to crawl before it can walk when it comes to supporting Black Lives Matter.