The NHL Acted Too Slow in Canceling Islanders Games

ELMONT, NY - NOVEMBER 26: New York Islanders Goalie Ilya Sorokin (30) gives up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins Right Wing Kasperi Kapanen (42) (not pictured) during the second period of a National Hockey League game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders on November 26, 2021, at UBS Arena in Elmont, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NHL has canceled the Islanders’ games through at least the end of November. The game against the Rangers on the 28th and the game against the Flyers on the 30th will be rescheduled. This comes a week after eight Islanders players entered the NHL’s covid protocol. The Islanders lineup was first affected last Saturday during UBS Arena’s opening game. Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey were replaced in the lineup by Kiefer Bellows and Richard Panik. Since it has been a week since players on the Islanders were first testing positive, I believe that the NHL acted too slow in canceling Islanders’ games.

NHL Inconsistencies

When an NHL team has a covid outbreak, the league has been inconsistent in its response. The Ottawa Senators had ten players and two coaches test positive earlier this month, prompting games to be canceled. However, the San Jose Sharks had seven players test positive, and there were no cancelations.

Last season, the Dallas Stars had an outbreak in March that delayed two weeks’ worth of games. Coach Rick Bowness complained to the league about the condensed schedule. Bowness attributed the condensed schedule as one of the reasons the Stars didn’t make the playoffs.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN that “each decision is made in conjunction with medical staffs and everything is reviewed on a case-by-case basis,” but Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello is not aware of what the threshold is.

The Islanders’ situation differs from that of the Sharks and Senators because it seems like a decision was made, then quickly rescinded. That could be caused by the severity of the illness the Islanders were facing. The league could take eight positive covid tests more seriously than eight quarantined players due to contact tracing.

That would bear the question: if the league knew about the severity of the cases from a week ago, what was the holdup? This past Wednesday, multiple pundits reported that the Islanders-Rangers game might be postponed due to the Isles outbreak. The decision to postpone games didn’t come until Saturday afternoon. Why not make the decision then?

The NHL is a reactionary league. During the mass cancellation of sports during the 2019-20 covid outbreak, the NHL was the last major North American sports organization to postpone their season. Perhaps losing money from the large New York market was enough to sway the decision. Islanders fans may stop attending games with most of the lineup sidelined.

The way the NHL mishandled the situation was through inaction. The decision to postpone games well after the covid outbreak got out of hand shows that the NHL didn’t know what to do. While the NFL and MLB have rules about teams that test positive for covid, the NHL remains misguided when faced with adversity.

How It Affects the Isles

It would be risky to say that the Islanders benefit from the games being postponed. While they get some needed rest and get eight skaters returning to the team, they weren’t exactly playing well before the outbreak. Coming off of their 13-game road trip to start the season, the Islanders were 5-5-2 and on a losing streak. Their 1-0 loss to the Penguins on Friday night marked their eighth straight loss.

The Islanders will also be missing Adam Pelech and Brock Nelson as they recover from non-covid injuries. The extra time off will help the team in small comparison to the time needed for a full-strength lineup. When the Islanders are re-evaluated to play next week, Kiefer Bellows and defenseman Robin Salo will likely stay on the team’s roster. Salo has been more impressive than the other AHL emergency call-ups.

Coach Barry Trotz had an alarming quote during his media availability on Friday night. Trotz said that this year had been the most challenging of his career. That’s saying something, considering Trotz’s first NHL head coaching job was with the expansion Nashville Predators.

“Were in a tough division… our fans want us, and we get excited about that,” Trotz said post-game.” We get hit with injuries, we get hit with covid, but that’s life.”

The Islanders are dug into a deep hole early this season. They currently sit in last place in the Metropolitan division with 12 points. They have also played 17 games this season, the least in their division. The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals sit atop the division with 31 points. The Rangers are in third with 29 points. The Islanders will need to rattle off wins once they are back to full strength.

The St. Louis Blues won the 2018-19 Stanley Cup after being a last-place team on January 1st. The Blues won eleven-straight games between February and March, including the emergence of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington.

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