Mazz: Duchene comments raise an obvious question ... To play or not to play?

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

This isn’t obvious to everyone, apparently, so let’s make it clear: there is going to be risk and there is going to be sacrifice – or there isn’t going to be a season of any kind.

We’re mentioning this again, today, thanks to an interview with Nashville Predators center Matt Duchene yesterday on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central in Canada. Asked about the prospect of what an NHL season may look like in the coming weeks or months, Duchene gave an answer that must leave you pessimistic.

And while Duchene was talking about hockey specifically, we can use the perspective and apply to any of the four major team sports in North America.

“First of all, it needs to be safe for the players, for the coaches, for the training staff – everybody,” Duchene said. “We can’t have a risk of anybody getting this thing and I think that’s going to be our ultimate biggest hurdle.”


RELATED: NHL progressing on 24-team playoff format


OK, let’s stop there for a second. We can’t have a risk. With all due respect to Duchene, who has every right to voice his concerns, this is, in a word, impossible. There is risk. There will continue to be risk. Unless or until the world develops a foolproof vaccine for COVID-19 – and that could be years away if there is one at all – sports must operate with some level of risk in the immediate future. Leagues, unions and players can obviously take many steps to limit and mitigate exposure to the virus, but they can’t eliminate it. In this case, “no risk” means “no games” and there isn’t a way around that.

Apr 25, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets center Matt Duchene (95) battles for the puck against Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (48) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) during the third period in game one of the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

So if it’s no risk that Duchene and the players want, then there will be no games.

And even then, everyone will still be at risk in their homes or their favorite grocery stores, at the pharmacy, even in the doctor’s office.

Next there is the matter of the playoffs.

“You don’t want to have a ‘COVID Cup,’ “ Duchene said. “And I’m worried that if we come back and try and force this thing [with a novel format] and it’s a little gimmicky and it’s not quite right, whoever wins the Cup is going to have people try and take it away from them their whole lives.”

Again, with respect to Duchene – who is right here – he’s missing the point. The season is already gimmicky. Players haven’t skated for two months. Find me another sports season that had a two-month break in the middle of the regular season schedule and I’ll show you something gimmicky. Merely returning to the arena at this stage is anything but normal, so let’s not delude ourselves into thinking it isn't.


MORE: Gary Bettman says NHL is looking at host cities


As for the potential of an asterisk on the NHL and NBA championships, in particular - yes, it’s very real. But so what? Again, the ultimate options are to play or not to play – or, really, to try or not to try – and then live with the consequences.

Before we wrap up, let’s make something clear here: I’m not criticizing Duchene, who has every right to believe what he wants. If he has concerns about playing hockey again this year, I don’t blame him. But if the only way he (or anyone like him) will return this season is to have things go entirely back to normal – no virus, no modified playoff structure – well, I think we all know what that means.

It means no hockey – and potentially no basketball, baseball or even football, either.

And it may mean that for a very, very long time.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.