Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin is one of the sharpest hockey minds in the NHL. As a former head coach, Martin won four division titles, including three as the bench boss of the Ottawa Senators from 1995 through 2004. However, Martin is also 67-years-old, which places him at a higher risk of severe effects if he contracts the coronavirus.
Regardless of the risks, Martin will be a full participant for the Penguins organization when the puck drops in Toronto later this month.
Speaking to selected media outlets via video conference on Wednesday, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said Martin brushed aside concerns and will fully participate in the 24-team NHL return to play. Phase 3 training camps begin on July 10, though a slight delay is possible.
“Jacques might debate that he’s up there in age,” Sullivan joked. “He and I had a conversation about (the dangers of COVID-19), and he is comfortable in participating in a full capacity in this environment.
“He does a great job from a fitness standpoint in taking care of himself. He’s a healthy guy. He feels as though he’s strong and healthy, and he also understands the risks associated with it … that is his choice to participate in a full capacity.”
Jacques Martin joined the Penguins in 2013 as an assistant coach to Dan Bylsma. In 2014, the Pittsburgh Penguins promoted Martin to the senior advisor of hockey operations, but he ultimately wound up behind the bench with Mike Sullivan again in 2015.
Sullivan also noted that all players are present and accounted for, at least the ones who have not been ruled out due to injury. The Penguins injured list grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as Nick Bjugstad, and Dominik Simon underwent surgeries.
Patric Hornqvist was the last player to arrive, and he is currently going through the quarantine and testing protocols. PHN noted he had not yet joined the team, but neither Sullivan nor the organization has any concerns that a player may skip the return to play.
And certainly not Hornqvist.
“I’m unaware of anyone that has that sort of concern,” Sullivan said.
There has been some talk that Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price is leaning towards skipping the 24-team NHL tournament. Price appeared to be less than committed to the idea during a video conference last week, and NHL analyst Pierre McGuire told 93-7 the Fan, he believed Price was slightly leaning towards withdrawing.
The Penguins face Montreal in the Qualifying Round, which begins on July 29, though slight delays are possible as the NHL finalizes details on a new CBA agreement with players and on NHL hub city plans. Reports indicate the NHL is set to name Toronto and Edmonton as the hub cities after Las Vegas experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, and the safety of the “bubble city” approach could not be guaranteed.
On Wednesday, news firmed up but is still not official. Toronto and Edmonton will be the NHL hub cities. Sullivan also punted on the dangers if an outbreak were to seep into the NHL bubble cities and shut down the NHL return.
“We understand that’s a possibility. None of us has a crystal ball and know where this goes,” Sullivan said. “Our focus has been to control the ‘controllables.’ Let’s not focus on things out of our control. … We’re looking forward to the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup, and that’s how we’re looking at it.”
“Regardless of where the hub cities are at, who our opponent is, what the rules are. We’re not interested in that.”