NHL postpones Stanley Cup playoff games for Thursday and Friday
The NHL postponed two Stanley Cup playoff games that were scheduled on Thursday and two others scheduled for Friday, a decision made after league officials drew wide criticism for their initial mild reaction to percolating social justice issues that have shaken up the sports world. Those issues, brought back to the forefront by the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis., prompted teams in the NBA and WNBA to refuse to play their playoff games on Wednesday and also led several MLS and Major League Baseball teams to decline to play in protest of racial injustice.
The NHL’s postponements, announced Thursday, involved second-round games in the league’s two playoff hubs. The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders had been scheduled to face off at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with their series tied at one game each, and the Vegas Golden Knights had been scheduled to face the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place in Edmonton in a series also tied at 1-1. Friday’s postponements encompass Game 4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s series against the Boston Bruins, and Game 4 of the Colorado Avalanche’s series against the Dallas Stars. Tampa Bay and Dallas each hold a 2-1 series lead.
“After much discussion, NHL Players believe that the best course of action would be to take a step back and not play tonight’s and tomorrow’s games as scheduled. The NHL supports the Players’ decision and will reschedule those four games beginning Saturday and adjust the remainder of the Second Round schedule accordingly,” according to a statement issued jointly by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Assn.
Naomi Osaka’s courage following the Jacob Blake shooting, likely lost on most while wildcat player strikes spread across team sports, shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Black and Brown communities continue to face real, painful experiences. The NHL and NHLPA recognize that much work remains to be done before we can play an appropriate role in a discussion centered on diversity, inclusion and social justice.
“We understand that the tragedies involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others require us to recognize this moment. We pledge to work to use our sport to influence positive change in society.
“The NHLPA and NHL are committed to working to foster more inclusive and welcoming environments within our arenas, offices and beyond.”
The NHL’s only response Wednesday was an announcement that was read before the Lightning-Bruins game in Toronto. It was followed by what the league called a “moment of reflection” that lasted for about 15 to 20 seconds. Public address announcer David Ross said, “Racism has been embedded in our society for far too long. Today and every day the NHL and the hockey community are committed in the mission to combat racial injustice and achieve a fair society for all. The NHL would like to take this moment to wish Jacob Blake and his family well and call out to our fans and communities to stand up for social justice and the effort to end racism.”
NHL players, coaches and staff members are overwhelmingly white but the league in recent years has initiated or endorsed many programs intended to increase diversity and promote inclusion. It supports Hockey is for Everyone, an initiative aimed at teaching children about sportsmanship, teamwork, and other life values through playing hockey, and it has promoted Black History Month each year with exhibits on Black players’ participation in the game at all levels. Willie O’Ree, credited with being the first Black player in the NHL, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018.
Still, many Black players have spoken about having faced racist taunts, gestures and treatment. Former player Akim Aliu’s accusations that coach Bill Peters had directed racial epithets to him a decade earlier contributed to Peters stepping down as coach of the Calgary Flames last November. Peters admitted having used the derogatory language. In April, a Zoom chat organized by the New York Rangers to feature prospect K’Andre Miller was hacked and Miller became the target of racial slurs.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance, which is comprised of Black players and former players, had initiated a Twitter campaign on Thursday to ask the league to halt operations for the day. “We the @OfficialHDA have formally requested the @NHL to suspend all playoff games today,” San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane said. “We strongly feel this sends a message that human rights take priority over sports.”
Wayne Simmonds, a former King and NHL veteran who co-founded the Hockey Diversity Alliance, posted an identical tweet. So did Aliu, who later added, “What’s more important, shining a light on social justice, police reform and inequalities of the black and brown community or playing hockey games that generate revenue for a billion dollar industry? This decision should be an easy one….come on now y’all! It’s time to wake up!!”
The group also issued a statement calling the Blake shooting, “yet another example of police brutality against Black Americans that continues to go unabated and unaddressed in the communities where NHL teams play.” The statement also said the group had asked the NHL to commit to funding grassroots programs for minority youth, fund social justice initiatives and anti-racial education and establish “targets for hiring and promoting Black individuals and businesses.”
The NHL has not agreed to those proposals, and its commitment to social justice advocacy has been questioned. Former Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey, now a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, decried the NHL’s decision to play on Wednesday. “I don’t think we should be here. I think the NHL should postpone the games,” he said on the Canadian network Sportsnet. “I really feel we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter. I know for myself, instead of watching hockey, I’d prefer to be having this conversation with my family.”
Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba called the league’s decision to proceed as normal on Wednesday “disheartening,” but not surprising. “The NHL, we’re always late to the party, especially on these topics,” he told Sportsnet 650 radio.
NHL players participated in marches to protest racial injustice after George Floyd died while in custody of the Minneapolis police, and other players have affirmed their willingness to try to learn what Black players experience and help ensure their Black teammates are treated fairly. However, some players who played on Wednesday said they had been so deeply engaged in their own routines that they weren’t aware of the actions taken by the NBA and other leagues until shortly before their own games. That meant they were not prepared to refuse to play or otherwise make a unified statement. One NHL game had been completed before players in the NBA and WNBA took their stands.
“We were following the schedule the NHL provided to us,” Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara said in a Zoom news conference on Wednesday.
On Thursday, players met via a group call. Some had reached out to the Hockey Diversity Alliance for advice on how to proceed. According to published reports, players gathered and voted against playing on Thursday.
“Our team understands the importance of playoffs but they also understand where the world is right now,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “The players will have to get involved, I’m going to have to get involved, everybody. If you do that, it will effect change for our country and it definitely needs it right now.”
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