By Connor Thomas
This weekend saw a unique professional hockey idea come to life, as a few NHL teams descended on Lake Tahoe in Northern California to play a couple scenic outdoor games lakeside. Among those teams was your Philadelphia Flyers, who were playing in their 2nd game back from an over a week COVID outbreak delay in their season. Before the Flyers even took the ice on Sunday against the Boston Bruins, the NHL had a slew of issues with gameplay during Saturday’s contest between the Colorado Avalanche and the Vegas Golden Knights. There were concerns about the warmer than usual temperatures projected for the Lake Tahoe area, which had the potential to affect the ice quality on the outdoor rink. These issues were realized during the Colorado-Vegas game, as a 3pm EST puck drop ended up having to be completed after midnight because of the deteriorating ice quality. There were also issues throughout the game play that did occur during the day as players battled with sunlight glare off of the lake, the snow, and the ice. It was not an ideal day for outdoor hockey, and Sunday was only slightly better for the Flyers and Bruins. There was no delay in the game, but there were clearly ice quality problems during the game, with numerous players and referees randomly falling over. It also seemed that there was some trouble with visibility, as the usually solid Carter Hart let in a couple of goals that would normally be saved. 10 total goals in the game speaks partially to the low quality of conditions, but it also is undoubtedly a result of the Flyers missing almost 2 weeks of hockey because of the team’s COVID outbreak. The NHL did not come up with a strong plan to keep the ice quality up, but their choice to still have the Flyers participate in one of the Lake Tahoe games was even more negligent.
The NHL’s plan to combat a COVID outbreak coming into this season was mainly led by the decision to create new divisions that limited travel for teams and tried to create 4 separate quasi-bubbles. So far this year, outside of the Canadian division, there have been major COVID outbreaks in each of the other 3 divisions. Clearly, the NHL’s plan has not been as effective as hoped, even with the limited travel and the minimal mixing of teams. Now, the NHL decided that it would be a good idea to take a time in the middle of one of the worst COVID outbreaks in sports right now, and fly them not just slightly out of their division’s geographical area, but completely across the country, just to play next to some aesthetically pleasing mountains and a nice lake? No disrespect to Lake Tahoe. The scenery was absolutely stunning. But was it worth essentially overriding the plan the league came up with to stunt the spread of COVID, especially considering one of the teams they included had numerous players still in COVID protocol? Absolutely not.
The game quality was poor, but the decision to take a team in the midst of outbreak cross country for a regular season game that could’ve easily included a different team was just a terrible decision on the part of the NHL that put players at unnecessary risk. In a season that has seen the NHL make numerous questionable decisions surrounding their plan to play and season schedule, Sunday’s Flyers game was another addition to that growing list.