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The NHL is setting a dangerous precedent during this COVID outbreak

The Habs never should have been on the ice in Florida on Saturday afternoon.

Montreal Canadiens v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/NHLI via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens played a hockey game on Saturday afternoon. They lost 5-2 playing with a lineup that had a total combined cap hit of $22.85 million.

They had lost two players that morning to the COVD protocol — Alexander Romanov and Jake Evans — just a day after losing Brandon Baddock.

It was a game they never should have been playing.

At the start of Saturday’s game, Montreal had 16 players in the COVID protocol, in addition to a number on the injured reserve list, including Brendan Gallagher who wasn’t able to play after being injured against Carolina. That left Montreal with 11 healthy forwards, and just five defencemen for a game against the Florida Panthers, who had just crushed Tampa Bay 9-3 earlier in the week.

The NHL had precedent that playing with an 11/5 alignment is all well and good after both Florida and Carolina did it earlier in the month. However, the issue with that precedent is that it was based on the fact neither team had the cap space available to make any recalls to fill their lineup. Montreal didn’t lack cap space at all; the issue was that the team had literally one NHL-contracted player left in the professional ranks — J.S. Dea in the AHL — as an option.

The infuriating part of all of this is that the NHL could only regard the Canadiens (or more accurately the Laval Rocket) as a means of revenue and not a team made up of actual people. Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme added even more context to how bad the Canadiens are suffering during this current stretch, which only served to make the NHL’s decision to play this game even more ghoulish.

To break this down a bit:

  1. The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19 that has forced them to recall nearly every single player under an NHL contract in the last month.
  2. They are not allowed in public
  3. They must also play against the Florida Panthers in a public arena, because the league didn’t want to lose revenue on a popular game in the Florida market.

There was no reason that the Canadiens should have been playing in this game. The roster was almost entirely AHL players, with two lineup spots being unfilled because no one was immediately available to play. Factor in Cedric Paquette being injured and you get into a dangerous situation. You have players who are likely not fully prepared for the speed and physicality of the NHL game, and then they have to play far more minutes than expected.

The NHL has shown that they don’t mind postponing games to save gate revenue, pushing back a number of games across Canada (including the next four that were scheduled in Montreal, they could have pushed back this game as well.

The massive outbreaks earlier in the season gave the NHL a chance to learn from their mistakes, when they forced teams to ice incomplete lineups. Instead, in pursuit of a little bit more money, they said Montreal is going to play while the team openly said they’re dealing with an outbreak of a viral disease that is spreading rapidly in its current form. It’s one thing trying to keep to a schedule and minimize losses, but at a certain point they’ve crossed the Rubicon, and it’s a dangerous line to have stepped over.

I hope the Habs get healthy soon. I hope there are no long-term effects due to any of these COVID cases, for any of the players on both teams, their staffs, and the fans in Florida whose money was the most important factor in all decision-making.