Tonight was supposed to be the start of the AHL season for the Binghamton Devils. The RWJBarnabas Hockey House was set to host the Hershey Bears to begin a truncated season in North America’s top minor league. Tomorrow, they were to play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. AHLTV has a free preview going, which is great timing for Devils fans who certainly do not have any games involving New Jersey this weekend. However, it did not happen tonight. The game tomorrow is also off. Due to members of the Binghamton staff being affected by the AHL’s COVID-19 protocols, the league announced that this weekend’s games with the Binghamton Devils are re-scheduled. As the B-Devils announced themselves:
The good news is the Binghamton Devils players will just have to wait a few days before playing their first game. They will visit the Penguins on Monday. Conveniently, this is also the last day of the AHLtv free preview so you can check that out. Their delay is relatively short.
The not-at-all-good news is that the Devils organization has been struck again by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the New Jersey team has been on the road since last Friday, Binghamton is playing out of Newark this season and so they have been going through training camp in the same building space as the NHL team. That staff members have been impacted by protocols could mean anything. The transmission – assuming there is a true positive case among the B-Devils staff, I do not know if there is – could have come from an entirely separate source than the New Jersey Devils. It is a global pandemic. And even if it was from the NHL team, it may have been entirely within protocols and not necessarily a “fault” of anyone. That cannot look good for anyone.
Especially as the list of New Jersey Devils players on the COVID-19 Protocol List continues to grow. Per Tom Gulitti this evening, Dmitry Kulikov was added today to make it 17 Devils players on the list. In addition to the 14 from the other day, Yegor Sharangovich, Nikita Gusev, and Nathan Bastian were added yesterday. This means the only non-impacted Devils remaining are Miles Wood, Mikhail Maltsev, Nick Merkley, Jesper Boqvist, P.K. Subban, Ryan Murray, Will Butcher, Scott Clemmensen, Gilles Senn, Eric Comrie, and Kevin Bahl. There are fewer Devils not on the Protocol List than there are on it, even if you include the taxi squad list. This also does not include staff members or coaches. The affected number could be even higher. Worse, the Devils’ last opponent, Buffalo is now up to five players and their head coach, Ralph Krueger. It is wholly appropriate to call this an outbreak. The Binghamton news compounds it.
I can sympathize with those who just want to pack it all in. I get it. The issue is that the majority of the league remains able to play. The NHL is not going to shut things down unless the situation is so widespread that a majority of teams cannot play. That is not the case. Unfortunately, that is also my interpretation of the situation. I know even less about the common questions out of this: Will the postponed games be made up? Will other games be rescheduled? How will the players perform? Will the NHL change their testing across the board? Can they come to an agreement with the NHLPA to make those changes? Did anyone actually do anything wrong here, or was this an unforeseen risk among all parties following protocols? I do not know. But the 2021 NHL season continues onward.
I am speculating here, but given the number of players involved, I cannot imagine the Devils playing next week so do not be surprised if there are further postponements announced soon. I do not expect the Devils to return to play until the middle of February at a minimum and that is assuming there are no further complications. Anything else among the team or at the arena or practice rink – where Binghamton is playing out of for 2021 – could cause further delays. And so we wait and can only hope that the impact on the player’s and staff member’s health is as minor as possible.