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Stars’ Roman Polak, Canucks’ Sven Baertschi latest to opt out of NHL season

Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak joined a growing list of NHL players who have opted out of resuming play due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak joined a growing list of NHL players who have opted out of resuming play due to concerns about the coronavirus.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Dallas defenseman Roman Polak and Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi on Saturday joined the list of players who won’t be reporting to training camp for the resumption of the NHL season.

Baertschi told the Canucks he’d be opting out of participating in the expanded 24-team playoffs, following Calgary defenseman Travis Hamonic informing the Flames he won’t be playing because of family reasons. Polak is not on the Stars’ roster for the start of training camp Monday, and a team spokesman said the 34-year-old veteran won’t be attending at this time.

Polak is a pending free agent who last month agreed to a deal in his native Czech Republic next season and told reporters there he wasn't planning on returning to the NHL if play resumed. Baertschi, who spent much of this season in the minors, is under contract through 2020-21.

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“Sven informed us late yesterday that he has chosen to opt out of the NHL return to play program,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “It was a difficult decision but ultimately one we respect and understand.”

Hamonic became the first player to publicly choose not to play in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamonic’s daughter was hospitalized last year with respiratory issues, and he and his wife also have a baby boy. Their health concerns, not the soon-to-be 30-year-old’s impending free agency, led him to opt out.

“I wish I could lace up my skates and be out there battling, blocking a shot and helping my team win, but my family has and always will come first,” Hamonic said.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving said, “While we will miss Travis in our lineup, we understand and respect his decision.”

Stamkos not 100 percent

The Tampa Bay Lightning won’t have captain Steven Stamkos at 100 percent for the opening of camp because of a lower-body injury, but they’re optimistic he’ll be ready when games get under way in early August. GM Julien BriseBois said Stamkos fully recovered from core muscle surgery in early March but was injured again during voluntary workouts.

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“We don’t have a specific timeline for when he will be a full participant in camp, but we expect he will be ready in time for games,” BriseBois said. “He’s here, he’s skating, he’s been getting treatment, he’s been coming to Amalie [Arena] doing his dry land work. But he will not be a full participant on Day One of training camp.”

The Lightning already got a pandemic scare when three players and additional staff tested positive for the novel coronavirus last month. The positive test results forced the team to close its facilities for a brief period of time.

The Minnesota Wild, who face the Canucks in the qualifying round, ruled out defenseman Greg Pateryn indefinitely with an upper-body injury. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday the league will be taking over injury and illness disclosure from teams as a way of protecting player privacy.

Popovich holds court

After making it through two days of in-room quarantine at the NBA’s bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, 71, the longest-tenured and oldest active coach in the league, ran his first practice in more than four months Saturday as the Spurs began preparations for a playoff push. When the season resumes July 30, San Antonio will be 12th in the Western Conference — only a half-game from ninth, where the Spurs would have to be and within four games of the No. 8 spot to force their way into a play-in series.

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“I honestly do believe — it’s not just being a loyal soldier of the NBA, I’ve done my share of criticizing here and there when I thought it was necessary — I don’t know where else you would be as safe as we are right now,” Popovich said.

But Popovich's age called into question whether he should be at the restart.

The Centers for Disease Control says people 65 and over can be more vulnerable to the virus. The NBA has three head coaches who have celebrated that birthday; New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, 65; Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, 69, and Popovich. Pelicans assistant Jeff Bzdelik, 67, and Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant Lionel Hollins, 66, are not at Disney for the restart.

“If this bubble works, I’m safer here than I would be in Texas,” Popovich said, referring to the state’s rapidly growing infection rate. “And since the decision was made to do this to start the season again, under these circumstances, with all the precautions, what a great opportunity.”

NHRA re-launches season

The NHRA resumed its season Saturday in front of an expected crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Fans were not allowed at Friday’s practice session but returned in a limited capacity for qualifying. NHRA president Glen Cromwell said ticket sales were capped at about 10 to 15 percentof normal capacity. Fans also are expected to attend Sunday’s finals. Most fans wore face coverings on a hot, sun-drenched day, complying with county guidelines, and observed social distancing in the stands, pits and at concession areas. Tommy Johnson Jr. topped Funny Car qualifying. Johnson, the winner in the last race before competition was suspended, had a 3.983-second run at 317.72 mph in a Dodge Charger. “It’s just a great start after such a long layoff and all the uncertainty,” Johnson said. “It’s great to be able to carry the momentum from Phoenix right into this race and not miss a beat. “The guys worked hard those four months so to be able to give them a No.1 qualifier right out of the box and just carry that momentum is really good.” Steve Torrence led in Top Fuel, Jason Line in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle. “The NHRA Task Force spent months going through detail after detail to get this done,” Cromwell told The Associated Press. “It’s been a lot of work the past 3½ months.” . . . The University of Maryland temporarily suspended football workouts after nine athletes and staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus during on-campus screening this week, the school’s athletic department said. The University Health Center tested 185 athletes and staffers Tuesday and Wednesday . . . Parma soccer club announced a non-playing member of the team tested positive for the coronavirus. The Serie A Italian club said the infected person is asymptomatic and is being isolated according to Italian government protocols. According to the league’s virus protocol, Parma can still play its home game against Bologna in the top tier on Sunday.

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