Monday's 5 p.m. deadline came and went and, though a handful of players around the league decided to opt out of the 2020 postseason, none of the Capitals players did. But don't mistake this to mean it was an easy decision. For perhaps the first time in their lives, the players had to honestly ask themselves if they wanted to play hockey and whether it was even possible to play the sport they love without putting the people they love at risk.
"I think for me, we went through every single thing the NHLPA and the NHL threw at you since day one in terms of the health risks and everything and you're weighing your options," Carl Hagelin said.
"I think around the league a lot of guys had their own personal situations, whether it was their families or just how their last couple months have been," Brenden Dillon said. "I think for us as NHL players we respect any decision made regarding that."
It wasn't a difficult question for everyone.
"I'm pretty sure my wife support me, it doesn't matter what decision I will make," Ovechkin said, "But obviously I miss hockey and they miss hockey so for me it's not even a question to skip it or play."
Winning a Stanley Cup was of course a factor for many players.
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When the 2020 postseason gets underway, almost five months will have passed since the league paused the season. With 24 teams in the postseason and over a full offseason break between games, there is a feeling that the Cup is truly up for grabs.
That is not something that players took lightly, but the pursuit of the Cup is not the only factor the players had to think about considering playing could potentially put one's family at risk.
"A lot of thoughts going into the decision, weighing the pros and cons," Lars Eller said. "For me personally, we're going to have a new addition to our family here in a couple weeks. I don't know when it's going to happen, but it's going to happen. But at the same time, I want to be with my team and also committed to that and want to win another Cup."
Eller's baby, his second child, is due Aug. 8. He said Tuesday that he intends to leave the bubble to be there for the birth.
Carl Hagelin is in a similar situation with his second child due in September.
"I spoke to my wife too and she said as long as you come back when the kid is born, you're welcome to leave," Hagelin said. "She knows hockey is a big part of my life and it's a big part of our family's life and so we have an opportunity here to win the Stanley Cup and that's the goal right now."
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It's a tricky tightrope that the NHL players are now forced to walk, trying to balance the safety of their families with their desire to get back on the ice.
While Ovechkin may have been adamant that whether to play or not was "not even a question," he was also very clear that he felt safety was the top priority.
"That's the most important thing for us right now to get safe," Ovechkin said. "I think for right now in this type of situation, you have to be careful, you have to be 100-percent sure you're not going to get COVID and you're not going to bring it to your families."
While they may not have opted out, concerns over safety have led to some players and even team personnel to make significant sacrifices. Head coach Todd Reirden and his wife decided it was best for her to take their immunodeficient son, Travis, to Valparaiso, Ind. while Reirden went back to practice. Nicklas Backstrom left his family back in Sweden when he returned for training camp.
"I think we decide pretty early that I was going to go over myself," Backstrom said. "We liked our setup better for my fiancee and kids to stay back in Sweden there. It wasn't really a long conversation."
But even with all the extra precautions being taken by the players and with coronavirus cases spiking in various parts of the country, still not one Capitals player opted out.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association negotiated health and safety protocols in great detail for the 2020 return to play plan. The players seem to be very satisfied with the results given that the league needed the NHLPA to approve the protocols in order to return to play.
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"I think everybody’s in a different situation at home with families and stuff and the one constant is that it’s an infectious disease and anybody can get it," Tom Wilson said, who is the team's player rep for the NHLPA. "I think we had to be confident in the protocols. We had to be confident that the league and the PA were taking all the different measures to make sure we’d be as safe as possible."
in the end, the players are back because they believe they can safely conclude the season given the protocols put in place by the NHL and NHLPA. The question is, are they right?
"Obviously we all love hockey and we want it back and if we can do it now and we're all very strict about this, I think we can make it happen," Backstrom said. "We all want sports back and we want to do what we love, you know?"
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