The Bruins on Wednesday stood but 70 or so days from clinching the franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup.
So there, could your faithful puck chronicler be any more blue-skies-and-rainbows than that? The Jacobs family stick-carriers don’t even leave here until Sunday to begin their playoff run, and what once seemed so distant now is only about 10 weeks away from possibly being a “Get the Duck Boats ready!” reality.
No telling, of course, what the local rules and regs would be, say, in that first week of October. There could be no boats and no Cup parade allowed in Boston.
Or, there could be a parade with no one other than cardboard cutouts of fans allowed to line up cheek-to-jowl along the route.
Or, we could party on in the Hub like no one ever heard of COVID-19 and it’s 1999.
(Note: If it’s the latter, remember not to invite any Buffalo pals to the party. They’re still smarting over Brett Hull’s foot-in-the-crease Cup clincher in the third OT that spring.)
The Bruins thus far have had, shall we say, a less-than-seamless re-immersion since the start of conditioning camp last Monday. They didn’t practice Wednesday, a scheduled day off, and it doesn’t appear that David Pastrnak or fellow Czech winger Ondrej Kase will make their camp debuts Thursday when Bruce Cassidy’s charges return to on-ice workouts in Brighton.
In fact, based on what Cam Neely said during a Zoom session Wednesday with reporters, it’s possible both will miss the entirety of the two-week camp.
“It’s hard to say right now,” noted Neely, asked if the pair might not participate until next week’s workouts in Toronto. “My best guess would be Toronto. There’s hopes before we leave. But my best guess would be Toronto.”
Neely is the team president, which is to say he’s an informed guesser. Which is also to say his guess is not good news. All of this one day after franchise goalie Tuukka Rask revealed that he has been nursing a broken finger, suffered while he performed box jumps during his off-ice training.
Can someone please hit the “fast-forward” button on Return to Play Camp?
Pastrnak was tied for the league lead in goals (48) before the NHL went dark in March. Kase is slotted as the No. 2 right winger, acquired in the David Backes swap to try to build the secondary scoring that is a prerequisite for clubs hoping to make a serious Cup run.
Of the 24 teams tuning up for the postseason run, the Bruins have been topping the list of daily scratches for workouts. And though the league has not provided a comprehensive day-to-day accounting of who has been scratched, or for what reasons, Neely did not disagree with the characterization that the Bruins thus far have been more challenged to keep bodies in workouts than many or most of the other 23 teams.
Some of the reasons for the absences, said Neely, have been due to stringent state and city health guidelines.
“Some other teams are dealing with this, obviously,” he said. “But what the state regulations are, compared maybe to some other states, are a little different across the country. We’re following all the state guidelines, and what our doctor is saying, and the expectations of the city.
“So we are doing everything we have to do and what we should be doing to make sure that we are following all the protocols — not just league protocols but the state protocols.”
In the 1980s, there was brief scuttlebutt that the Bruins would be sold to a group that planned to move the franchise to Salem, N.H., aside the grounds of Rockingham Park. Maybe things would be different now in the “Live Free or Die” state. But here in the Commonwealth, we have demanding standards, and right now, a concerning dearth of Czechian right wingers.
While not identifying anyone by name, Neely also made clear that he wishes some of his players had shown more alacrity when getting back to the US ahead of camp. Under league and Players’ Association guidance, it was clear that European-based players generally should have allowed for two-week quarantines before camp.
“I mean, we had the date when camp was started,” said Neely, asked if he were disappointed how this has played out, “and that some players would need to quarantine when they get here. You kind of hope they’d get here a little earlier.”
The team, noted Neely, “didn’t have much say in that, and it was really left up to the players.”
“Obviously,” he added, “with what’s played out and transpired, you certainly would have hoped that there’d been some different decisions made. But in the long run, I don’t know if it’s really going to affect us. Once we get into Toronto, I think we’ll be fine.”
Important to remember: The Bruins won’t play their first game with elimination consequences until Aug. 11 or 12. Before then, they have an exhibition game vs. the Blue Jackets next Thursday and then round-robin games (Aug. 2, 5, and 9) that will determine their placement among the top four seeds in the East.
With that kind of elbow room in the schedule, two “lost” weeks in Brighton quickly could be forgotten if all sniffles, tweaks, and virus-positive tests are put behind once the Bruins are in residence north of the border.
But for now, they worry, wondering who’s fit to play one day, who might be scratched tomorrow, and whether Bruce Cassidy will have his full varsity on the flight manifest when the team charter takes off Sunday.
“I think the whole COVID thing’s got everyone frustrated,” said Neely. “I got asked, there was a league survey, and they said, ‘What are your three biggest concerns or problems right now?’ I said, coronavirus, COVID, COVID-19.”
These are strange, angst-filled times, unlike anything the Bruins have ever faced, unlike any Stanley Cup times since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, when the Cup Final was called to a halt after five games because too many players were sick. No winner was declared.
Now, 101 years later, 24 teams are about to be off and running, chasing a Cup, praying to avoid a devil’s dance with a silent killer.
“I don’t want to say it’s the new normal,” said Neely. “I hope it’s not the new normal right now and we can get out of this at some point. But right now it’s just the way we have to live. I think it’s frustrating for everybody, but this is what we’re in.”