On the first official day in which players could opt out of the 24-team NHL return to play, five players publicly declined to resume activity, including one Montreal Canadien defenseman who was set to face the Pittsburgh Penguins. Phase 3 and 4 protocols and the return to play agreement allows players to remove themselves without penalty. The players have until Monday evening to make their final decision.
Players who decline to play will still receive their full share of playoff bonus money, pending how far their team advances. The bonus pool money was doubled for the NHL 24-team Stanley Cup tournament this summer. Qualifying Round bonuses are $20,000, and Stanley Cup winners will get $240,000.
NHL players do not receive salary during the playoffs, however.
With 24 teams and 31 player rosters, there will 744 players inside the two NHL bubble cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league will quarantine players in hotels during Phase 4, but the NHL chose not to formally isolate in Phase 3 training camps, which teams are holding in their home cities.
Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic was the first to do so publicly. Hamonic’s daughter has respiratory health issues, and Hamonic decided the risk. Hamonic was the first, and the biggest name to opt out.
This season, the defensive-defenseman Hamonic had 12 points (3g, 9a) in 50 games.
Defenseman Mike Green, whom the Edmonton Oilers acquired at the NHL trade deadline, also opted out.
“Due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and after much consideration, I’ve decided for deeply personal family health reasons not to participate in the return to play,” Green’s statement read.
Vancouver Canucks depth player Sven Baertschi, 27, who spent most of the season in the AHL, also declined. Baertschi simply cited the COVID-19 concerns in his statement.
Boston Bruins defenseman Steve Kampfer also decided the risk was not worth the potential Stanley Cup award.
“…This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. My wife and son have a congenital heart defect, which can cause complications with COVID-19. We have taken this matter seriously. Family will always be my first priority,” read Kampfer’s statement.
Montreal Canadiens depth defenseman Karl Alzner also declined to play. Alzner has two seasons left on his five-year, $23.1 million contract but he played just four games in the NHL this season. Montreal demoted him to the AHL last season, where he has largely remained.
Alzner, 31, may have been a necessary piece for Montreal against the Penguins, as the Montreal blue line is unsettled and inexperienced. Alzner did not release a statement.
Also, Dallas Stars rearguard Roman Polak declined to return to North America to resume play. Last month, Polak signed a deal to play in his native Czech Republic and informed Dallas he would not return if the NHL resumed play. The hard-hitting, but slower skating Polak had four assists in 41 games for Dallas this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford brushed aside a question if any Penguins would opt-out. However, the Penguins chose to remove Zach Trotman based on health issues and the possibility those issues could flare-up in the bubble city.