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With the National Hockey League still planning on training camps kicking off on July 10, and voluntary workouts around the league increasing as part of Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is beginning to formulate a plan of his own.
Part of that plan is knowing if he has his full deck of cards to work with, or if a key part of his deck will be missing when camps open.
So far, Cassidy expects to have his four Aces, four Kings, four Queens and so on.
“Nobody as of yet. Hopefully nobody going forward,” Cassidy said via zoom Monday morning about players voicing any concern about returning to play. “I think the players want to get back to training camp and see what it’s going to look like. So far so good on our end. With everyone in the organization on that.”
With 11 days between Monday’s zoom call and the start of camp, anything can happen and players could sing a different tune, coming forward about their concern in returning to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should that happen, Cassidy would start with a conversation between he and said player.
“We’d try to get to the root. Is it a health issue or is something deeper in there? If that’s the way they felt, I don’t know how we stop them. It’s that simple. I think it’s the player’s right to work in a safe environment,” Cassidy said. “That’s why the NHL is doing everything they can. They don’t want this to happen, we’d have to have an internal discussion. See if there’s something that would make them feel more comfortable. But at the end of the day, if that’s the way they feel we’d have to honor their request.”
After suspending play on March 12, the league currently sits in the middle of Phase 2 of their return-to-play plan.
Phase 3 starts with the opening of training camps.
Earlier this month the Bruins were notified that one of their players tested positive for COVID-19 with the two ensuing tests coming back negative. The player who tested positive remains unnamed.
But as we inch closer to July and the restart of hockey, Cassidy is happy to say everyone from the players to the equipment staff remains healthy.
“Right now, I think with our group, everyone’s healthy; coaching staff, equipment staff, players. We feel pretty confident,” said Cassidy. “That could change, right? But until it does, I think we’re all prepared to go back to work.”
The NHL revealed on Monday that the league has had in excess of 250 Players report to Club training/practice facilities for optional participation in Phase 2 activities. There have been in excess of 1,450 COVID-19 tests administered to this group of Players. Those tests have resulted in a total of 15 Players returning confirmed positive test results for COVID-19.
In addition, since June 8 (the opening of Phase 2), the League is aware of 11 additional Players who have tested positive for COVID-19 outside of the Phase 2 Protocol.
Although positive tests from around the league are rolling in, Cassidy says the goal remains the same. After last year’s Stanley Cup defeat to the St. Louis Blues, the Bruins feel they have some unfinished business and hope that they have the opportunity to change their fortunes this time around.
“I think the message for us hasn’t changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is. Our unfinished business is to be Stanley Cup champions. But inside of that message will be a lot of the unknown and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us, which can be difficult because we don’t know how it’s going to work out for players’ families yet,” said Cassidy.
“How much time they’ll be away? Will they be able to visit their families? Will their families be able to see them? I think that’s the most important thing outside of the obvious, which is playing the game.”
Trying to figure out where to go once training camp opens in July is no easy task. After sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago, the Bruins had an extended break as they awaited the result of the Western Conference Finals and then the start of the ensuing Stanley Cup Final.
They were able to pick the brains of players, management and other organizations both inside and outside of the NHL. But this situation is much different, and one that is a complete unknown to the 24 clubs that will get the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup.
So with so much unknown surrounding their return, Cassidy is going to turn to two of his most trusted leaders: Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
“We’ll get together with Bergy [Bergeron] and Zee [Chara] first and see how these skating pods have gone. Just to make sure everyone’s in a good place. Get a temperature from those guys like where are the players at? Are they comfortable with the situation? Are they nervous? Are they excited to get going? Do you feel that the group has done their work? So we’ll get a little bit of that feedback first and then we’ll go from there,” said Cassidy.
With reports indicating the team will be able to carry 28-30 players and unlimited goalies between training camp and then playoff games, Cassidy has a pretty good idea of what those names will look like.
Cassidy wouldn’t dive into some of those names, other than revealing Providence Bruins goalies Dan Vladar and Max Lagace will join Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak in camp.
Kyle Keyser is also in the mix as the goalie continues to work his way back from injury, and newly signed prospect Jeremy Swayman out of the University of Maine does not have his contract kick in until the 2020-21 season.
When things do ramp up in a week and a half, it sounds like Cassidy will split the group into two with one looking like your more traditional 24-man roster.
"I know at some point we'll want to get to our group that we feel we're going to play with. That would probably be more like your typical 24-man roster,” said Cassidy.
“We would definitely be down to two groups I think fairly quickly, simply because our guys are going to need the reps together to sort of regain their chemistry. We had a little sorting out to do to begin with with a couple of lines, so I would anticipate you'd see that."
It’s still unknown where the Bruins will be heading as their hub city when they begin the round-robin tournament at the end of July. But as the days go by without an official announcement from the league, it sounds more and more like Vegas and Toronto will be the two cities the NHL calls home for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
With the league looking to keep teams as close to their home city as possible, the Bruins would be looking at Toronto as their hub city.
Cassidy seems okay with that.
“We’ve played well in that rink in the playoffs for the most part, so that’s a positive,” said Cassidy. “I know Toronto this time of year, there’s nice weather. I’ll give them that. We’ll be ready to go when they tell us where we’re going.”
For what it’s worth, the Bruins are 3-3 in Toronto during the playoffs under Bruce Cassidy.