NHL’s masked men have chance to deliver key safety message

Maybe it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference across this country, but maybe it would. Maybe some of those invited to participate would decline because they do not believe in the message. Shame on them, but that would not scuttle the initiative.

Because when 12 NHL teams convene in Toronto in just over a week, their 24 goaltenders will all be wearing masks when they go to work. And when the 12 other tournament entrants convene in Edmonton — guess what? — their 24 goaltenders will also all be wearing masks.

So why not open each telecast to what should be impressive (and perhaps even impressionable) audiences with a PSA in which goaltenders, one by one, simply say, “I wear a mask. So should you.” Or, “I wear a mask. I’m asking you to wear one, too.”

(I don’t get paid to write ad copy, you may have noticed.)

The NHL could have Ben Bishop deliver the message to the Dallas market and Andrei Vasilevskiy to the Tampa market and Sergei Bobrovsky, or maybe even Roberto Luongo, to the Panthers market. Tuukka Rask could speak to Boston and Carter Hart to Philadelphia, and Jordan Binnington of the Stanley Cup champion Blues to St. Louis.

The league could have Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury and Martin Brodeur addressing the audience before national games. Maybe Bernie Parent and Patrick Roy. But it is a natural for the NHL, which has the opportunity here to do more good than perhaps lifting its fans’ spirits by getting on the ice in the midst of a pandemic.

Never has silence signaled such good news as this week’s smooth opening week of Phase 3 training camp did for the NHL. Perhaps there is some good fortune involved, but that is surely at least partially the residue of the design the league and the NHLPA created through weeks of intense dialog.

I don’t care for the CBA, which became locked at the hip to return to play. I think the players were taken advantage of by the league and by the owners, and partly because for years the players had improperly fixated on escrow as a bug of the unyielding hard-cap system rather than focusing on the hard-cap system itself. But I have previously said that once or twice. This is the system and all will learn to live with it.

The return to play, though, the painstaking and methodical approach taken by both the league and the union in crafting protocols for four different phases dealing with COVID-19, well, it couldn’t have been more impressive. Gary Bettman had time and he used it wisely. Neither party got ahead of itself.

And though there are no absolutes in July 2020, the methods adopted give the NHL a chance to pull this off. It still all lies ahead, and there is no guarantee next week won’t bring bad news, but there is reason for more than hope. There is reason to believe this might work.

So, in two years when he becomes eligible, does Luongo become the first NHL goaltender elected to the Hall of Fame without winning a Stanley Cup since — who do you think? — Tony Esposito in 1988! That was one year after Ed Giacomin, also without a Cup on his résumé, was enshrined.

In fact, Esposito, Giacomin and Chuck Rayner, who incredibly never had a winning season in two years with the Americans and eight with the Rangers, are the only three NHL goaltenders inducted into the Hall post-1950 without a Cup notch on his belt.

There is a fourth post-1950 Hall of Fame goaltender without a Cup. His name is Vladislav Tretiak.

So if Sean Day, released by the Rangers with a year to go on his contract, somehow turns into an NHL caliber defenseman after having signing with Tampa Bay, there will be some explaining to do.

Yes, I know, the Rangers need to conserve contracts to stay within range of that 50-max number, and they have all these alleged lefty defensemen prospects waiting in line, and that Day, in his third year in the organization following his third-round selection in 2016, played 36 games in the ECHL and just 16 with the AHL Wolf Pack last season.

And with the consensus among talent evaluators that Day simply does not have the hockey IQ necessary to make it, despite his innate skill and skating ability, it was probably the judicious move.

Still — and this might not be fair given that the Lightning have won the same number of Cups and have gone to the same number of finals as have the Rangers since the introduction of the hard cap — seeing Tampa Bay sign Day, and so quickly, well …

As Robert Plant once sang, ooh, it makes me wonder.

Sixth Avenue did it again, tweaking a regulation or reversing a ruling to benefit a favored franchise or owner. This time the NHL redrew the cap-recapture clause of the CBA in order to help Nashville avoid ruin in the event of an early Shea Weber retirement in Montreal.

This is the league, you recall, that reversed the Devils’ forfeiture of a first-rounder tied to the Ilya Kovalchuk circumvention finding when the current ownership group took control. This is the league that created cap-recapture carve-outs for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter of the late “Mr. Snider” for no reason other than — the Flyers.

In the word of Tevye: Tradition.

Finally, the next time that Jere-ME Roenick attends an NHL game, hopefully he will have to buy a ticket to gain admission.

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