Brock McGillis: There are systemic issues throughout hockey culture at every level
June 19 2020
It’s 2:27 a.m. Saturday and a glass of good scotch is not helping me answer tonight’s very important question: was this year’s draft lottery the best or worst in NHL history? Only in 2020 could we have to wait six weeks after it happens to find out who’s getting the first pick.
As we began to tape the 31 Thoughts podcast approximately 45 minutes following the event’s conclusion, I wasn’t too worked up about it. I’m very pro-lottery, and everyone knows the rules coming in. You have to prepare for surprises, and, in the NHL, we’ve gotten used to them. Only two “favourites” (Toronto in 2016, Buffalo in 2018) have picked first in the last 10 years.
A little over an hour later, as we prepared to finish the pod, I took a minute to scroll through text messages. Holy smokes, people were FURIOUS. And, if one of Edmonton, Pittsburgh or Toronto ends up with Alexis Lafreniere, people are going to be FURIOUS again.
Brian Burke shared that sentiment in an Instant Analysis segment with David Amber Friday night: “Tonight, it should’ve just been the seven teams that are not in the play-in round. … Give the teams that need the most help the best players. I think this result is nothing short of a disgrace.”
Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman gamely refused to complain that his Red Wings, 23 points below 30th-place Ottawa, dropped three spots.
“The odds were better that the first pick went to (one of) the bottom eight than to us,” he said.
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.
Others were not as charitable, including one exec who compiled a masterful text ranting that now the eight play-in losers have better odds at getting Lafreniere than all but Detroit and Ottawa. (Some of you will feel this is not a legit beef. Trust me, however, this was an epic note that deserved mention.)
Some of the anger came from teams who felt they were not given a clear answer in advance about what would happen if the season could not be finished. Apparently, it was asked on one of the GM zoom calls, and they were unsatisfied with the explanation. When I reported that the next eight non-playoff teams would be given an equal chance to win that spot, a couple of other clubs reached out to say they felt all 16 not guaranteed an “official” playoff spot deserved the opportunity.
I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Two good things are going to come out of this. The play-in is going to have even more meaning. (I can already hear Canucks Twitter cheering for Minnesota.) There’s going to be a massive audience for Lottery, Phase 2: Electric Boogaloo.
But, I also wonder if we’re going to see changes to the format. I remember a lengthy conversation with Trevor Linden about his frustration with the lottery, that this random event has too much influence over a team’s direction. You try to have a good process, he said, and four ping-pong balls bring you riches or rip your heart out.
I get that, but I’ve been a proponent of a powerful lottery since 2014-15 when Buffalo and Arizona entered an embarrassing tankathon for Connor McDavid. That featured a late-season game where Sabres fans cheered a Coyotes’ overtime win in Buffalo. In the end, neither team got McDavid, but it was awful to watch. That can’t be rewarded.
Multiple wins for Edmonton and New Jersey, combined with the increasing number of “surprise” results, have led to calls for change. No one’s going to be breaking their ankles jumping off that bandwagon.
And, depending on who wins the next draw, those screams will get louder.
1. Let’s update what will happen if — for whatever reason — the season can’t resume/be completed. The next eight non-playoff teams are evenly split by conference, as in a regular year. That’s Montreal, the Rangers, Florida and Columbus in the Eastern Conference; Chicago, Arizona, Minnesota and Winnipeg in the West. All would have a 12.5 per cent shot at numero uno.
2. I think Lindy Ruff has a legit shot at the New Jersey coaching job. I had heard that external GM candidates asked the Devils to allow them some input, but a few people told me Ruff is very much in this picture no matter what.
3. We’ll get to more lottery fallout in a few minutes, but this will be a huge few days for the NHL and the NHLPA. Let’s start with the caveat that whatever is true when I write these words may not be true in 10 minutes. During the Pandemic Era, life changes quickly and unpredictably.
Last weekend, both agreed on Vancouver and Vegas as hubs. It was supposed to be announced Thursday, but was derailed 48 hours earlier when negotiations broke down over two critical issues: how many positive tests would delay/end the return; and flow of people in and out of the bubble. (A source indicated the cost of all staff staying in the bubble as close to $5M for one of the particular bids. Hotel staff, for example, does not have to live in the NBA’s Orlando hub.)
British Columbia has done an excellent job of containing COVID-19, and didn’t want someone being exposed, leaving the area and infecting others. Cases in Vegas are going up, and, until last week, I’d never thought two Canadian hubs were possible, but the league and players seem confident in their ability to keep that particular bubble tight.
If I had to rank the remaining cities in order by the feedback I’m getting, it’s Toronto, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Chicago. But, as we’ve learned, nothing is done until it is done.
4. If it is Toronto, I think you’ll see East teams there, West in Vegas. That’s the way it should be. We’re overthinking this one.
5. In addition, the league and players continue to negotiate the “updated” CBA. It is expected that all players will vote on it – along with return-to-play protocols for training camp/games – sometime this week. Initially, I think both parties wanted finality by June 30, the theoretical end of the NHL calendar, but that’s unlikely. The vote itself will take 48-72 hours. Having the health protocols voted on at the same time as the CBA framework is not without debate. There are players and agents who feel these should be two separate votes. One player on a team that will be returning said he didn’t feel that those who are out of the playoffs should get a say on these protocols. “They get all of the financial benefits with none of the health risk,” was his point. However, some of those things are being “intertwined” with the CBA, which gives everyone a voice. According to the union’s constitution, a simple majority is enough to pass.
6. Some of what’s in the new framework was contained in this article from Thursday, but here’s a fuller picture: four years added onto two remaining seasons; 20 per cent escrow limit for players in 2020-21; somewhere between 14-18 per cent in 2021-22, with a hope of getting into single digits after; salary cap of $81.5 million for the next two seasons, and $82.5 million in 2022-23; a 10 per cent player “deferral” next season (which includes July 1 signing bonuses due next week), where players will get that money back in the future when escrow is lower; and a mechanism to make sure teams get paid in full from the 50-50 split over the length of the deal.
One thing I’ve struggled understanding is what this deferment means to a team’s cap situation. Some sources indicated they thought this would give teams extra room, but another countered by saying he understood it “counted in the year earned.” So, still waiting for clarity on this.
7. When it comes to the vote, I think it’s pure hypocrisy to judge anyone else any differently than I judge myself. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, certain NHL locations are out of control and there’s risk. We can argue about mortality rates for healthy athletes, sure, but we also have very little idea of what this disease does long-term to the human body.
A few weeks ago, I discussed with my wife about going back to work. We looked at the risks and agreed that when the time comes to go back into the office, I’m going back into the office. Some people can financially afford to say, “Don’t need this.” (I’m jealous, lol.) Some will say, “My job is simply not important enough to me.” But for many, many others, that route is not practical. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s benefits. Maybe it’s self-worth. Maybe it’s the fact that, as an athlete, your career window is so much smaller than most. All good reasons, and there are more. I decided a while ago that I was not going to criticize anyone – co-worker, athlete, coach, executive, official, blue-collar worker, white-collar worker – who said no. That’s their business, no one else’s.
There’ve been some raucous player calls. I’m told Montreal’s was one, and Carey Price gave a window into that with local reporters on Thursday. The time of year does not appeal to the players, who save the summer for recovery, training, golfing, weddings and timing the birth of children. Who’s going to be thrilled with flying into Florida or Texas? Who wants to take a triple connection to come back from Europe? Are there more positive tests than we know? These are all legit questions. But I don’t think it’s in any way wrong to say, “What are the implications if I say no?” The business is already taking a massive hit and each player’s salary is linked to it. That’s why I think the vote passes, then we see who opts out.
8. Apparently, one of the as-yet-undetermined issues is what happens to the likes of Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota), Alexander Romanov (Montreal) and Ilya Sorokin (Islanders). The NHL is holding firm on not allowing them to play, so we’ll see if there’s some kind of trade-off (service time counted?).
9. One question still being asked: what is going to be the salary-arbitration walk-away number? With a tight cap, this is going be huge.
10. As it stands, the Phase 3 training camp reporting date is July 10. That could be moved back to get everything done. It wouldn’t be by much — three to five days max, I think — but it’s possible.
11. Word is one star working to keep his group optimistic is Nathan MacKinnon. He wants the Avalanche in a positive mindset should this happen. Colorado’s good, and he’s as competitive as it gets.
12. There is talk of “games” involving the seven non-playing teams sometime in the fall. Details are sketchy, since that isn’t a current priority, but those organizations don’t want their guys waiting until December/January to play.
13. More post-lottery stuff. Good questions from the audience during our live #Ask31 with Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion. Would he consider trading down from three and/or five?
“It would be very difficult to do something like that,” he answered. “It would have to be a special player coming our way.”
He did add that a GM listens to everything, and didn’t pooh-pooh Jeff Marek’s query about drafting a goalie in a high spot. One viewer asked if he would offer three and five for No. 1, to which Dorion smiled and said: “No comment.”
In 2013, Calgary offered picks six, 22 and 28 for Colorado’s No. 1. The Avalanche declined and snared MacKinnon.
14. Dorion said his “tiers” broke down as follows: Lafreniere, then two players, then players four through 12, followed by 13 to 18 or 20. Los Angeles GM Rob Blake, whose Kings will pick second, revealed: “I would say that we’re going to work hard on about four (prospects).”
15. L.A.’s last three first-rounders were centres: Alex Turcotte (2019), Rasmus Kupari (2018) and Gabe Vilardi (2017). I don’t see these prospects like Sam Cosentino does, but his (and others’) consensus next “two” after Lafreniere are OHL Sudbury’s Quinton Byfield and Germany’s Tim Stützle — both centres. Does this matter to the Kings? “No,” Blake answered. “You mention those three, we’ll take four centres like that.”
16. Talked Friday with Jeremiah Crowe, newly promoted in Buffalo as director of scouting, both amateur and professional. Crowe played at NCAA Clarkson from 2006-10.
“I had some opportunities to continue playing,” he said, “but by no means was I on track to the NHL.”
He was coaching a midget team when former Buffalo State head man Nick Carriere offered him an assistant’s job with the Bengals. From there, he moved to director of player personnel for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, where he met former Sabres assistant GM Steve Greeley. That was his connection to Buffalo, the last three seasons as a pro scout.
“We’re going to look at a new process, a different way,” Crowe said. “A marriage between analytics, on-ice viewings and video scouting.” He said the Sabres will add staff, although the timeline is uncertain because of everything going on right now. “I want to leave (the organization) better than I found it. If you follow that approach, good things can happen.”
17. I don’t know much about Crowe, so I asked around. One exec said he looks like Lex Luthor. “I haven’t watched Superman in some time,” he said, “but I have heard it before.”
18. The other story I was told is about his father: U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Terrence K. Crowe.
“He was a major influence on me, as all dads are,” Jeremiah said. “A big part of building my passion. He pushed me to reach my potential.”
He talked about learning to skate with his father in Niagara Falls, N.Y., and how Terrence had a level-headed, tough-love, supportive approach about raising him. Although he agreed to discuss this subject, I didn’t want to push too hard. Terrence Crowe died in Iraq on June 7, 2005 when his regiment was attacked near the Syrian border. His son was 19. You could hear the pride in Jeremiah’s voice discussing Terrence.
19. Chris Thorburn’s retirement means no more North Bay Centennials will ever play in the NHL. The OHL franchise lasted from 1982-2002. The last five alumni were Alex Auld, the late Steve Montador, Paul Bissonnette, Chris Neil and Thorburn. (Nick Kypreos was another.) The Battalion moved there from Brampton in 2013, and have four in the NHL who played in “The Gateway to the North.” But Thorburn will be the last of the Centennials.
20. I’ve heard some linking of former AHL Ontario coach Mike Stothers to OHL Hamilton.
21. My reaction to the lawsuit against the CHL and its teams for hazing is this: no one should fear the truth. The OHL, QMJHL and WHL maintain they have improved things on this very serious issue. They should welcome the opportunity to publicly show it.
Brock McGillis: There are systemic issues throughout hockey culture at every level
June 19 2020
22. The secondary aspect to this story is the financial fallout. The CHL just settled the minimum-wage suit for $30M, half of which will be covered by insurance. Remaining is a concussion suit and now this one. How many industries/companies could handle three expensive settlements in the time of COVID? I counted 26 of the 60 teams as being sold to new ownership since 2010. One such investor said last weekend that he’s frustrated by liability for events prior to his arrival. He thinks they should burn it down and start all over. I don’t know how widespread his feelings are, but I can’t imagine he’s alone.
23. Don’t know if I’ve ever identified more with a quote than one from Erin Ambrose on an #Ask31 last week. The two-time world championship medallist and Team Canada defenceman talked about her days at NCAA Clarkson by saying: “I was never a student of school, I was just a student of hockey. That was kind of the joke.” Take “hockey” and substitute “goofing around” or “hanging out in the college newspaper office,” and that’s my time at Western.
24. Epidemiologist Zachary Binney had some good intel about bubbles in last week’s podcast.
“If I had to summarize the most important things,” he said. “There’s four big elements that we need to be focused on. One is some sort of centralization or sequestering, to limit contact between people within the league and people outside of the league. Number two is frequent testing so that when cases do occur, they don’t turn into big outbreaks. Ideally, that would be daily testing. The third is mask-wearing all the time when you’re around anybody else and not actively on the ice. And the fourth is limiting time in enclosed spaces with many people — locker rooms, showers, things like that. Severely restricting the time that you’re spending together in those sorts of environments.”
25. The other thing Binney said that hugely resonated with me was quarantining and testing BEFORE entering the bubble. Especially now, I think more attention should be paid to this.
“You need to test everybody a few times, over a few days, before they travel to the hub to make sure that you’re not bringing a case in… because then you’ve contaminated the whole thing. There also needs to be work done on enforcing a serious quarantine for about a week beforehand, where players and their families (ideally, anyone they’re interacting with), should be going to the facility and home, and the facility and home — and that’s it. They should not be interacting with anyone else. That’s something that I haven’t seen quite as much on as I’d like.”
Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.
26. The last game I worked was Scotiabank Wednesday Night hockey that fateful evening Rudy Gobert tested positive and the NBA shut down. It was Edmonton-Winnipeg. Honestly, I have to look up who won. I have no memory of what happened on the ice, I’ve totally forgotten. (It was 4-2 Jets.)
Mark Scheifele said it was just as weird for those playing as for us watching. In the first intermission, “A few guys went to the washroom, and (our scratched players) were like, ‘Hey, the NBA just got cancelled,’” he said. “We all had thoughts that there was the possibility of it (in the NHL)… we had to prepare ourselves… we were like, ‘Well, we have to be next.’ There’s no chance we continue on with the NBA being suspended.”
The second-period puck drop was fascinating. “Some guys knew, some guys didn’t… You get to the opening faceoff and Connor (McDavid) and Leon (Draisaitl) were on the other side of the circle. Leon looks over at (Blake Wheeler) and says, ‘Hey, you hear about the NBA?’ I know in my mind, it was like, ‘This is real.’ There’s a chance that this season gets suspended, it’s kind of a surreal feeling… and you have two more periods in a hockey game.”
27. Scheifele on being part of the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee: “I was on the phone more than I’ve ever been on the phone before.”
28. Tyler Kennedy, who won the 2009 Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and played 527 NHL games with the Penguins, Sharks, Islanders and Devils, did his interview with Jeff and I in his memorabilia room. One surprising and interesting possession: a skateboard.
“When we won the Cup, (owner Ron Burkle) had Tony Hawk personally sign all these skateboards for us… this is the coolest thing.”
29. Man, Kennedy loves hockey. He trains several minor-hockey players and got wound up talking about how much he loves getting on the ice with them.
“After my career, I was sitting around finding what to do, and someone said, ‘You gotta just do something. Get out there, start training kids, don’t think too much, just throw yourself into the fire’ and that’s what I did.”
When he gets going, he’s really funny. “I was like, ‘Well you know what, when I retire, I’m going to sail off into the sunset, and play with the kids all day, make breakfast’ and after about three months of that, my wife was ready to kill me, my kids were sick of me, I was starting to sleep in. I wasn’t on a schedule, and I’m a guy who needs to keep his mind occupied.”
30. When Ray Shero was Pittsburgh’s GM, he talked about how Kennedy was a big part of the group, not only as a player, but a genuinely funny human who broke up the monotony and made Sidney Crosby laugh. We definitely saw that side of him during his interview. What did he do?
“Honestly probably just saying the wrong things at the wrong time,” he laughed. “I remember we had a break-out play, and we’re watching video and (the day after a loss, then-coach Dan Bylsma’s) like ‘TK, what were you thinking? You know what Dan, there’s probably 1,000 things going through my mind… I don’t know.’”
Kennedy said those kinds of things happened all the time. He also told a great story about Evgeni Malkin.
“If a new guy came to the team, Gino would grab his stick and use it in practice. And actually play really well. And then, in a game, he’d go back to his own stick and everybody would be like, ‘Gino, what are you doing?’ (He’d say), ‘Oh, my stick feels so good after I go to that stick.’”
31. I’m taking a break from the blog. We’ll see when it starts up over the summer; it’ll depend on the schedule. As always, thank you for reading… especially when there hasn’t been any hockey. If there’s no audience, there’s no blog. I also wanted to thank the editors who have to comb through this garbage.
I wanted to close with a message. I was reading a CNN article this week about a study linking both cyberbullies and their victims to a “variety of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.” I don’t like to tell other people what to do and don’t like sharing advice unless asked. However, when I do speak to young journalists, I do get asked a lot about handling social media. This week, I saw one good hockey reporter hurting after what they felt was relentless online negativity and reached out to offer encouragement.
I do believe properly handling this audience is critical not only to reporters, but to everyone. Social media can do good, but it can also be nasty. It’s not going away, we’ve all got to deal with it, so I’ve come up with a personal method of handling it. Since this is the end of the school year, I wanted to share, because I’ve been told it’s helped people.
I’ve got a pretty thick skin, but there’s always going to be something that gets you. For me, it’s actually not the stuff you’d think. There used to be a tweeter who’d say, “Every time I see you on TV, I’m reminded that Jews can get any job they want.” He’d do it a few times a year, and it wasn’t the worst thing he’d say. (There’s no point in revealing number one, although I have done it in classrooms.) That doesn’t bother me, because it’s just dumb. This stuff shouldn’t happen, but it does — so you must find an antidote.
Make sure your “quality” filters are on and limit the amount of replies/comments you look at.
The times I get overwhelmed are sheer numbers. If one per cent of my followers on Twitter are mad, it’s a lot. So what I tell people is this: you have to limit the number of people you’re going to accept feedback from. There’s too much “access” to you now. And if you take it all, it will clobber you. You’re the one who has to live with the consequences of your actions, so make sure the people you listen to really have your best interests in mind. This is critical. These MUST be people who legitimately want the best for you. Your partner. Maybe some other family. Your good friends. People at work. Maybe someone online you met who qualifies.
My “circle” is my wife (no one knows better when I’m descending into pure stupidity), a circle of good friends, some people I’ve worked with for a long time, people in the business I can trust, and, occasionally, I’ll listen to one of my bosses. These are people who, when they tell me I’m wrong, I know I’m wrong. Outside of that, let people say what they want to say. You can’t stop it, so don’t even try. Now, there are going to be times in this business the people you cover are going to want to rip off your head. You have to navigate that fairly and honestly. But you’re going to be better at handling those moments if you limit your battles to legitimate ones.
Anyway, I hope this helps someone. It definitely helped me and I’ve been told it has helped others. This is our new world. We can’t hide from it, so we better know how to live it.
But speaking on a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Nashville CEO Ian Ayre said that once the dust settles, he’s confident that the club will be able to move forward and, hopefully, resume their expansion season once the tournament in Orlando concludes.
“I don’t think it will surprise anybody to know that as well as us they were all devastated to have to withdraw from the tournament,” Ayre said. “Unfortunately it was a medical and a timing issue that had us withdraw. The players were 100 percent committed right to the end. Devastated to hear the bad news. It will be a low point for a few days I’m sure, and our job and [head coach] Gary [Smith’s] job and everybody else involved is deal with it, dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up and move on.
“It’s certainly not our first rodeo in terms of difficult days, but it’s certainly one of the toughest ones.”
Ayre said that the players who tested positive are on the mend, with most being asymptomatic and a couple displaying minor symptoms.
“They’re getting through it and they were on the [team] call this morning and doing ok,” he said.
Having to withdraw after all the work that went into the preparation for the tournament will be a difficult pill to swallow in the coming days, but Ayre said he believes that his group will be able to work through the situation with a positive attitude. With the hope that the 2020 campaign will be able to resume with games in home markets, Ayre said his players are eager to get back to competing.
“The strength of the organization is climbing out of these hurdles and keeping going,” Ayre said. “And I have to say that when [performance coach] John [Ireland] and I addressed all our players and staff this morning, whilst everybody took a real punch in the gut with that announcement, I think coming off that call we all believe that we’re still one big unit, we’re all together and we’ll keep moving forward. I absolutely believe that. That doesn’t make it easy and it doesn’t make it ok and it doesn’t mean we have to like it, but it means we’ve been fortunate to assemble a great group of players and staff here and we’ll come back. We’ll give everybody a few days to dust themselves off and get themselves healthy in whatever way is needed.
“But then our focus will be on getting everybody fit and ready and prepared for the rest of the season, which will recommence in August post-Orlando,” he added. “Nothing changes in that regard.”
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As the Montreal Impact began their MLS is Back campaign with their Group C opener against the New England Revolution, manager Thierry Henry made one of the most discreet, yet powerful gestures of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the tournament so far.
While also wearing a T-shirt with “Black Lives Matter” in bold letters across the torso, Henry took a knee for the first 8:46 minutes of the contest while in his coaching box.
8 minutes et 46 secondes.
— Impact de Montréal (@impactmontreal) July 10, 2020
Unfortunately for Henry, the game did not go well for the Impact, finishing in a 1-0 defeat that could’ve been worse with better finishing from the Revs. Perhaps partly because of that, Henry was concise in his explanation of the gesture.
“Well I sat down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds,” he said. “I guess you guys know why. It was just to pay tribute and show support to the cause. That was basically it. It was simple.”
The duration of 8:46 has been a rallying cry of activists in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officers in late May. That was the amount of time prosecutors originally said police officer Derek Chauvin had kneeled on Floyd’s neck.
As one of two Black head coaches in MLS, Henry has been vocal about the need for reforms to address systemic racism in the wake of the incident.
TORONTO – Baseball of any sort, even an intrasquad game, is a thing of beauty as we emerge from four months of shutdown. Bo Bichette taking Matt Shoemaker hella deep was a sight to behold. So too was Rowdy Tellez going oppo off southpaw Brian Moran, as the relievers in the ‘pen gave bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, playing left field, the gears for his sketchy tracking of the drive.
“Come on, Busch. Get up!” one of them shouted.
Good times, though that Buschmann not only played left field, but bounced between there, centre and right, that catching prospect Riley Adams covered a few innings in right, that shortstop prospect Kevin Smith did the same, that Teoscar Hernandez was the only regular to see any action Thursday evening raised an important question: Where are the club’s outfielders?
Along with Sportsnet colleagues Arden Zwelling and Ben Nicholson-Smith, we spotted 43 of the 46 players manager Charlie Montoyo said made the trip north from Dunedin, Fla., last Sunday. Twelve others not identified by the club remain there after one player tested positive for COVID-19 during intake, and the rest were pulled away because they had direct contact with him, an industry source said earlier this week.
The team has thus far declined to disclose which of the 46 players are in Toronto.
Here are the players, in alphabetical order, we’ve seen here:
Riley Adams, Chase Anderson, Bryan Baker, Anthony Bass, Travis Bergen, Bo Bichette, Ryan Borucki, Andy Burns, Rafael Dolis, Santiago Espinal, Sam Gaviglio, Ken Giles, Jordan Groshans, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Danny Jansen, Caleb Joseph, Alejandro Kirk, Patrick Kivlehan, Reese McGuire, Julian Merryweather, Justin Miller, Brian Moran, Joey Murray, Joe Panik, Thomas Pannone, Nate Pearson, Jake Petricka, Sean Reid-Foley, Tanner Roark, Jordan Romano, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Travis Shaw, Matt Shoemaker, Kevin Smith, Ruben Tejada, Rowdy Tellez, Trent Thornton, Ty Tice, Jacob Waguespack, Simeon Woods Richardson, Shun Yamaguchi and T.J. Zeuch.
Of the seven outfielders on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, only Hernandez is on that list. Of the other six, only Jonathan Davis is on the injured list, added last week in an unannounced and unexplained transaction.
Whether the Blue Jays are facing a problem in their outfield, and how big it might be, is unclear.
It’s possible some of them are in Toronto and were out of sight Thursday, but that would make for some odd outfield coverage. It’s possible some of them are being sidelined as a precaution as part of contact-tracing measures. It’s possible some of them have contracted the coronavirus. Teams are not allowed to divulge whether a player has been placed on the COVID-19 injured list, but infection numbers can be announced, something the Philadelphia Phillies have done regularly, and players can be identified if they grant permission, the way Brad Keller and Ryan O’Hearn of the Kansas City Royals did this week. The team even included quotes from both in their news release.
The absence of information makes things murky, and leads to speculation, a byproduct Yankees GM Brian Cashman acknowledged during a conference call with New York media last week: “The information I’ve been given is (media) will be left to try to figure that out. Somebody might be down and out, but we might not be able to speak to why, and it would be a speculating circumstance, you would have to use your journalistic superpowers to determine if there’s anything there or not, what the circumstance might be.”
What we know as it relates to the Blue Jays is that 12 players aren’t in Toronto, and Hernandez is the only outfielder on the 40-man roster seen Thursday or in the limited video clips of the club’s workouts here the past few days.
The situation highlights the personal health risk each player is taking this summer, and very, very secondarily, the challenges infections and the steps taken to prevent spread present to fielding a roster. They’re the obvious downsides to playing amid a pandemic.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
Bichette, speaking generally about the sacrifices players must make this summer for the endeavour to work, put it this way: “There’s definitely going to have to be some discipline from the team, staying inside and making sure that not only are we keeping ourselves healthy, but keeping the rest of the team healthy. It’s bigger than ourselves, and we’re going to do our best to make sure we keep everybody healthy in here.”
The upside, of course, is having baseball again, of regaining a slice normalcy amid the enduring uncertainty that surrounds us all.
Bichette got to Shoemaker, but beyond that, the veteran right-hander was remarkably effective over five-ish innings of work, allowing just the two runs with four strikeouts. He got up to 60 pitches, 42 of them strikes, and rather than being at the beginning of the ramp-up process, he’s at the dialing-in pitches phase, on track to be pushing toward 100 once the season begins.
Tellez added a couple of singles around his home run, Travis Shaw cleverly poked a single against the shift, Caleb Joseph threw out Reese McGuire trying to steal third after reaching on a line-drive double and the infielders turned a pair of crisp double play, all done with an air of competitive collegiality.
“Some of us talked about this (Wednesday) night, we’re still playing baseball, even though it’s against our team. It is different than playing a different team, but when you’re on the mound, and you just have that mentality that you’re going to beat that guy, you’re going to get that guy out, you can still make it pretty similar and game-like to in-season,” said Shoemaker. “When you can lock it in, I’m battling, me-versus-you right now, just go to battle. Having that mindset just gets us ready for the game and gives us a better chance to win.”
To give the proceedings some formality, the Blue Jays piped in walk-up music, sound-effects on foul balls and dropped some beats during the changeover between innings. Conversations reverberated through the predominant silence, a sneak-preview of what fan-free games during the season will sound like.
Surreally weird all around.
“We’re getting ready for a different kind of season, no fans, so when the season starts we’re going to have to learn how to create our own adrenaline, so I guess we’re practising that now,” said Bichette. “There’s not a whole lot of adrenaline when you’re facing your own teammates – it’s more like a practice scenario. We’re going to figure out how to get as ready as we can, get that adrenaline going to the best of our ability on our own merit and see what we can do.”
Within that environment, the Blue Jays will need to make several difficult roster decisions, with manager Charlie Montoyo praising Jordan Romano’s work during live BPs Wednesday, saying the right-hander was building a pathway to leverage innings.
Intrasquads certainly aren’t the ideal way to settle on a roster, but Montoyo appreciates the way his players are making the best of what they’ve got.
“They’re really competing against each other. It was fun for me to watch the live BPs, it was fun for me to watch (Hyun-Jin) Ryu face Bo Bichette and try to get him out, and Vladdy and them (Wednesday). They’re competing and they’re having good at-bats. It’s been fun watching that. These guys are professionals, they can have fun, but at the end of the day, when someone is on the mound, the hitter wants to get a hit, and the pitcher wants to strike him out. That’s what I saw and that’s fun to watch.”
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