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‘Unfit To Play’ Could Make NHL Unfit To Bet

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We know the NHL Return, due to a COVID19 outbreak, could become unsafe to play and put on hold or canceled. Could the upcoming Stanley Cup Qualifying Round, Round-robin, and 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs also become unfit to bet?

On July 11, just prior to the NHL entering Phase 3 and Training Camp for the NHL Return To Play plan, the NHL and NHLPA jointly announced that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement they agreed on the night before, no matter what, absences could only be explained as ‘unfit to play’. This was negotiated by the players into the CBA because collectively, they did not want it revealed if they test positive for COVID19.

“This policy was adopted out of respect for an individual player’s right to medical privacy,” the NHL and union jointly stated.

The Boston Bruins have quickly become the poster child for those who hammered and continue to hammer the NHL’s and NHLPA’s decision to describe any player absence from a game or practice as ‘unfit to play’. At one point during the opening week of training camp, the Bruins had nine players on the ‘unfit to play’ list and with one of them being 2020 Co-Rocket Richard Trophy winner David Pastrnak, the suspicion grew not just from a fan standpoint but from hockey bettors who may be thinking on getting some NHL betting picks on the Bruins – who along with the Tampa Bay Lightning are favorites to win the Cup – or already have done so. The fact that photos surfaced of Pastrnak and teammate Ondrej Kase (with no mask on), out in the North End of Boston (the same night the NHL announced the rule) while they were supposed to be finishing the 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the United States, made the speculation even worse.

Thankfully Pastrnak’s agent J.P. Barry clarified the matter to The Athletic, saying that his client tested negative for COVID19 but had to reenter quarantine because he came into contact with someone who had tested positive. This past Saturday an exasperated Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy thanked Barry for burying any rumors that Pastrnak tested positive and acknowledged the difficulty for all involved with this new injury disclosure rule.

“That’s what we’ve opened ourselves up to with the players,” Cassidy said of the speculation boiling up. “Him [Barry] coming out kind of put a nail in that coffin that he tested positive. That’s good news for us,” Cassidy said. “At the same time, he’s not with our group. We’d like to have him back. Look you guys know me and I try to be as forthcoming with you as I can but this is something the players have negotiated into the CBA and the return so we have to respect that. They’ve asked us to continue along that line for the respect to the privacy of the players so that’s what we’re going to do. 

Cassidy then pointed out how everyone needs to remember that ‘unfit to play’ and players going on and off that list doesn’t necessarily mean they tested positive. 

“There’s always different reasons. There’s the quarantine rules; there’s waiting on test results. There’s a number of different things that are going to factor into this and we can’t automatically assume that he had a positive [COVID19] test,” he said. “[Bruins Assistant Coach] Kevin Dean had to miss a couple of days because he was in the vicinity of someone who tested positive so on the safe side we kept him away. 

So there’s been a little bit of that going on [last week] and we want to get to Toronto as healthy as possible. So, I guess that’s how I’d elaborate on that (under NHL guidelines) other than that we hope to have some of these guys back.”

Cassidy’s exactly right but the COVID19 speculation is part of the new world we live in and would’ve happened no matter what. As Ian Cameron of the Ice Guys Show pointed out, hockey bettors are scrambling now to do their research on teams but they have no real injury news to work with.

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“Try to follow every NHL team beat reporter if you’re not already because a lot of these announcements are gonna just be ‘in or out’,” Cameron said. “They may even come the day of the game and they might even come an hour before the game. … in some instances, we may see that. It’s going to be difficult to get clear, concise injury and absence information for these players.”

Unless the league gets back to at least saying ‘Upper-Body’ and ‘Lower-Body’ injuries’ for anything not COVID19 related or something else, Cameron is absolutely right. In October 2018, the NHL signed a betting partnership with MGM. The league was hoping to open up live betting kiosks in NHL arenas where the local jurisdiction permits it. So this willingness to suddenly agree to and mandate an injury report that makes Bill Belichick’s look like a walk in the park for bettors is strange, to say the least. With many Americans and Canadians still stuck at home, the league could break viewing rating records and the betting volume could be astronomical in terms of the NHL’s history. With the ‘unfit to play’ information rule though, will bettors find the NHL Return unfit to bet?

With 20 years of experience (SiriusXM NHL Network Radio, ESPNBoston, NESN, NHL.com, etc.) covering the Bruins, the NHL, NCAA and junior hockey and more, Jimmy Murphy’s hockey black book is full of Hall of Famers, current players, coaches, management, scouts and a wide array of hockey media personalities that have lived in and around this great game. For 17 of his 20 years as a hockey and sports reporter, Murph covered the Bruins on essentially a daily basis covering their victorious 2011 Stanley Cup run and their 2013 run to the Final as well. Murphy has hosted national and local radio shows and podcasts and also has experience in TV as well.

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