The NHL’s players made a statement and, as a result, the league postponed four Stanley Cup playoff games: two on both Thursday and Friday.
With the players showing unity against a police officer’s shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Wisconsin, the NHL postponed Thursday games between the Flyers and the Islanders, and Vegas against Vancouver, along with two Friday contests (Boston-Tampa Bay, Colorado-Dallas).
Blake was shot in the back seven times Sunday.
Game 3 of the Flyers-Islanders Eastern Conference semifinals, originally scheduled for Thursday, is expected to be played Saturday, although the NHL had not announced a date or time.
The series is tied at one win apiece.
Buffalo’s Wayne Simmonds, a former Flyer, tweeted that the Hockey Diversity Alliance requested the NHL suspend all of Thursday’s games.
“We strongly feel this sends a clear message that human rights take priority over sports,” he said.
“The PLAYERS took a stand today, they stepped up,” tweeted San Jose’s Evander Kane, who, like Simmonds, is Black.
Kane was furious that the NHL, whose white players make up about 97% of the league, allowed its playoff games to be played Wednesday night. He tweeted it was “incredibly insulting as a black man in hockey the lack of action and acknowledgement from the NHL, just straight up insulting.”
The league received its share of criticism for the decision to play games Wednesday. On the flip side, it also had people complain that games were postponed Thursday.
When asked about the NBA, MLS, and WNBA making a statement by postponing games Wednesday, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said his focus in Toronto has been solely on hockey games “and trying to prepare my team the best way I can.”
“I really have no idea what’s going on in the outside world. We’re in this bubble right now. I’m invested 24/7 on our team. Working 20 hours a day, going through video and preparing our group. I don’t [read] Twitter. ... I haven’t read any type of article in I don’t know how long. I guess I’m a hockey nerd and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Vigneault later added that the NHL was “doing everything they can to obviously help in their own way with what society is going through.”
“We’re all for equality and social justice,” Vigneault said. “But right now, what we’re trying to do is play a game, and I think players, and management, and coaches are really focused on that. This is the most important time of the year for us, it’s playoff hockey.”
In a statement Thursday, the NHL said the players “believe that the best course of action would be to take a step back” and postpone games scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The league said it supported the players’ decision.
“Black and Brown communities continue to face real, painful experiences,” the league said, adding that the NHL and the players association realize much work has to be done “before we can play an appropriate role in a discussion centered on diversity, inclusion, and social justice. ... We pledge to work to use our sport to influence positive change in our society.”
On Wednesday night, Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, told the Associated Press that postponing Thursday’s two playoff games was not being contemplated, but he added: “Obviously we will see if the players feel differently and will respond appropriately as necessary.”
The players did feel differently, so the NHL postponed Thursday’s games.
The NBA postponed three playoff games Wednesday in the wake of the shooting of Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Similar postponements were made by MLB, the WNBA, and MLS.
The NHL showed an “end racism” video before Wednesday night’s Bruins-Lightning playoff game.
Prior to the postponements, Islanders coach Barry Trotz said all sports should continue to play because, in part, “athletes have a great platform” to discuss social issues. He said his players were discussing the issues.
“I don’t know how it’s going to affect their performance,” Trotz said. “I think we’re a pretty mature group. They understand the importance of the playoffs, but they understand where the world is right now.”
Trotz said the “end game” should be for the players and coaches to get involved. “If you do that, that will affect change for our country -- and it definitely needs it right now.”
The Flyers released a statement saying they were “committed to using our platform to create dialogue and meaningful action in the pursuit of social change and racial equality, and James van Riemsdyk, the team’s player representative, said players around the league were “trying to do the right thing and looking for things to do to show support and be a part of this.”
Before the postponement, Vigneault would not say if Carter Hart would be in the nets for back-to-back games, or if Brian Elliott would get the important Game 3 start.
Now the decision appears much easier. With an extra day of rest, Hart figures to start Game 3. In this summer’s postseason, Hart is 7-3 with a 1.97 GAA and .935 save percentage, while Elliott is 1-0 in two appearances and has a 1.47 GAA and .913 save percentage..
“Both of our goalies have played very well,” Vigneault said. “You don’t get to this position in today’s NHL, with the demands of the schedule, without two goaltenders who can play and play well. Carter has been excellent so far, no doubt. He’s young, he’s got a lot of energy, he wants to play. He’s doing what goaltenders have to do -- giving your team a chance to win. We’’ll see what we do moving forward here.”
Vigneault hinted that forward Scott Laughton was injured and that was why he didn’t play Wednesday. Van Riemsdyk took his place.
“I thought James played hard last night,” Vigneault said. “He’s an offensive player who has an ability around the net, but I thought his overall game -- getting in on the forecheck, using his size, helping us kill plays in the neutral zone -- was good.”
As for Laughton, Vigneault said, “I don’t want to get into the reason behind the decision because at this time, we’re not allowed to comment on player availability.”