Although coronavirus cases in the United States are on the rise and surpassing previous highs, sports leagues are sticking to their return plans as of now.
For the NHL, that means full training camps remain set to begin in less than two weeks, on July 10. The league's two hub cities are expected to be officially announced soon, but no date has been set for the start of games yet.
On a Zoom call with reporters on Monday, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy discussed some plans for the return, including what the roster might look like and what his message for the team will be.
The Bruins had 24 players on their NHL roster when the season was suspended, and the expectation has been that teams will be able to carry at least a few more than that for training camp and the postseason.
Cassidy said that while nothing is set in stone yet, he's hearing that teams will likely be allowed 28 or 30 skaters for training camp, plus an unlimited number of goalies due to the hit a team would take if one or two goalies test positive for COVID-19.
The Bruins' plan as of now would be to carry four goalies: Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, obviously, plus AHL Providence goalies Dan Vladar and Max Lagace. Cassidy said Jeremy Swayman, whom the team signed in the spring following an excellent season with the University of Maine, wouldn't be eligible because of when he signed.
Cassidy said the additional forwards and defensemen who will be called up haven't been finalized yet. Back in May, P-Bruins coach Jay Leach named forwards Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman and defensemen Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen and Steven Kampfer as the guys he thinks would be at the front of the line.
As far as how he'll use those additional players and run training camp with such a big group, Cassidy said he'll probably split things up pretty quickly into the usual varsity group and the "Black Aces" group that teams usually have for the playoffs.
"I know at some point we'll want to get to our group that we feel we're going to play with," Cassidy said. "That would probably be more like your typical 24-man roster. ... We would definitely be down to two groups I think fairly quickly, simply because our guys are going to need the reps together to sort of regain their chemistry. We had a little sorting out to do to begin with with a couple lines, so I would anticipate you'd see that."
Cassidy said he wouldn't anticipate anyone from the "Black Aces" group playing in the postseason if everything goes well, but that they could be called upon out of necessity if injuries or positive tests start piling up.
"The obvious scenario is necessity, which is injury or if there are positive tests within the group," he said. "Otherwise we have confidence in our guys. Obviously we had a strong regular season, we used different players, we had depth. Probably realistically 15 forwards, eight defensemen all played. In that regard, they would have to excel to push someone out who's done a good job for us to this point.
"But the other area could be if a player comes in and condition-wise he's not there yet, we should have enough time to get him where he needs to be, but if that's not the case and one of these younger guys has a little more to give, then we'll certainly consider it. That's the facts of it. It's a short window to get it right, so there will be some tough calls to make if players aren't up to speed in a hurry. I'd like to think with the group we have that we'll be fine in that regard."
Cassidy also said that one of the first things he'll do when he arrives for training camp is to meet with captains Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to get an idea of how the voluntary limited workouts (which Cassidy isn't allowed to be at) have gone, how guys look, and what the feeling around the team is.
"We'll get a little bit of that feedback first and then go from there," Cassidy said. "I think the message for us hasn't changed in terms of what our ultimate goal is. Our unfinished business is to be Stanley Cup champions. But inside that message will be a lot of the unkown and how we have to be prepared to deal with that as it comes at us, which can be difficult because we don't know how it's going to work out for players' families yet, how much time they'll be away, will they be able to visit their family, will their families be able to see them. I think that's an important thing outside the obvious of playing the game.
"But that's going to be the message. I think the mental toughness part is going to determine who ends up raising that trophy at the end of the day, and that's where I like our chances."
- Cassidy said he hasn't heard from any Bruins that they're seriously considering not playing. He said that if that situation were to arise, there would probably be a meeting between himself, the player and team management to discuss their concerns and whether there was anything the team or league could do to alleviate them, but that if the player ultimately still didn't feel comfortable coming back, he'd respect the decision. Cassidy noted that as far as he knows all the Bruins are healthy as of right now.
- Cassidy had a pretty good line when asked about the possibility of having the Bruins' hub city be Toronto. "We've played well in that rink in the playoffs for the most part," he said. Cassidy did say that there are some advantages to playing in your home arena even without fans, though, and that ideally teams would be going to non-playoff markets to avoid having any team be at home. Another way to do that, which has reportedly been discussed, would be for the Eastern Conference to go to a Western Conference city and vice versa.