Bruins President Cam Neely said he doesn’t expect to see David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase on the practice ice again prior to the team heading to Toronto at the end of this week.
“It’s hard to say right now,” said Neely. “My best guess would be [they will practice] in Toronto. There are hopes that it will be before we leave [Boston], but my best guess is Toronto.”
The Hall of Fame B's power forward watched the last two weeks of B's Return to Play camp play out with the NHL’s leading scorer held to just one day of practice before being quarantined after getting exposed to somebody positive for COVID-19. And his other top-6 right wing, Kase, hasn’t been able to practice at all with his status still unknown aside from the nebulous “unfit to participate” designation.
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Both Pastrnak and Kase were seen together socially in the North End and skating together locally prior to both of them disappearing from Bruins training camp just days into the proceedings.
With all of that in mind, Neely was asked on a Wednesday morning Zoom call with B’s reporters if there was any organizational disappointment or second-guessing of the decision-making by Pastrnak and Kase given the way things have played out.
"Of course. When we had the day that camp was starting and we knew that some players were going to have to quarantine when they got here, you'd kind of hoped they would have gotten here [to Boston] a little earlier. But we really didn't have any say in that. That was really left up to the players,” said Neely. “Obviously with what has played out and transpired, you would have hoped that some different decisions were made. But in the long run, I don't know if it's going to affect us once we get into Toronto. I think we'll be fine."
In fairness to Pastrnak and Kase, the Return to Play agreement didn’t require them to be in Boston until the days leading up to the July 13 open of camp at NHL facilities across North America.
But they were also the only two Bruins regulars held up from practicing while serving out their mandatory quarantine period after travelling internationally to Boston. Everybody else on the B’s roster, aside from Pastrnak and Kase, was in Boston early and ready to work for the common goal of winning the Stanley Cup that eluded them in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues last season.
It does seem like the Bruins have had an inordinate number of issues with COVID-19 protocol given that the two players have pretty much missed all of camp while only two out of 800 NHL players have tested positive in Phase 3 camp, according to the league. There have been other players “unfit to participate” around the NHL over the last 10 days, but it was the Bruins missing a whopping seven regulars from practice last weekend that essentially ruined plans to hold a late afternoon scrimmage.
Just about every day since the middle of last week, there has been at least one Bruins absence per day with a player deemed "unfit to participate."
“Some other teams are dealing with this obviously, but the state regulations [in Massachusetts] are a little different than they are in other places across the country,” said Neely. “We’re following all of the state guidelines and the expectations of the city. We’re doing everything we should be doing and following all the protocols, not just league-wide but also state protocols.
I think the whole COVID thing has got everybody frustrated. I got asked in a league survey what are your three biggest concerns right now? [I answered] ‘Coronavirus, COVID and COVID-19.’
"Everybody needs to adjust, as we know. I don’t want to say it’s the new normal. I hope it’s not the new normal and we can get out of it at some point. But right now, it’s just the way we have to live and it’s frustrating for everybody. But this is what we’re in.”
The good news, in Neely’s eyes, is that the Bruins are getting things lined up for themselves now prior to heading to Toronto. And here's the simple truth: The Black and Gold still won’t be playing any truly meaningful games for more than two weeks given their placement in the round-robin games as one of the East’s top seeds.
As it turns out, their top-seed status may end up helping them out more than originally anticipated while it’s going to take Pastrnak and Kase some time to get up to full speed after sitting out the last few weeks while everybody else was ramping up to play.
But people are fooling themselves if they don't think the Bruins wished different decisions had been made by some of their players given the way things have played out in training camp.