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Peng to the Point

Tuukka Rask & the Importance of Saying No



Credit: Lisa Gansky (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Every Sunday at Peng to the Point, we talk about the world away from the San Jose Sharks.

Between his family and his teammates, it’s obvious that Tuukka Rask made the right choice by opting out of the playoffs.

Well, obvious to some people…

But anyway, I’m not here to call out Mike Milbury or Brandon Prust.

I’m contemplating, instead, the potential magnitude of Rask’s decision.

FiveThirtyEight completed a recent study comparing the major North American sports leagues and how many of their best players have chosen to opt out because of COVID-19.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as of August 7th, none of the NHL’s best players had opted out. Meanwhile, just for example, 2020 Pro Bowler Dont’a Hightower opted out from the NFL, superstar Kevin Durant “probably” would’ve skipped the NBA bubble even if fully healthy, 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne is sitting out the WNBA season, and future Hall of Famer Buster Posey isn’t suiting up for MLB.

What about the NHL, before Rask?

According to FiveThirtyEight: “The best player by goals above replacement this season who chose not to return to hockey’s bubble was defenseman Travis Hamonic of the Calgary Flames, who didn’t even rank among the top 400 players in the league this year.” Now that’s probably a bit unfair to Hamonic — per usage, he’s Calgary’s No. 2 blueliner, no small feat.

But besides Hamonic opting out, we have Andrew Shaw, Chicago’s sixth most-used forward, and Mike Green, Edmonton’s sixth most-used defenseman. Then we have potential healthy scratches like Sven Bärtschi, Roman Polák, Karl Alzner, Steven Kampfer, and Zach Trotman. That’s it.

Rask, on the other hand, is a Stanley Cup favorite’s No. 1 goaltender. He’s also a 2020 Vezina Trophy finalist.

It’s fair to say that before Rask, no NHL star had chosen to opt out.

As I noted, this isn’t surprising. You have to consider the reality of hockey culture. For better and worse, hockey players are taught from a young age to not say “I”. They’re taught a “warrior mentality” will overcome all obstacles.

But the dark side of this mentality is players playing when they shouldn’t. Players feeling the pressure, whether it’s to get that next contract or to rise to the occasion for their teammates or something else, to play through concussions and other issues.

So this is why Rask’s decision matters: Hockey players need to know that they can say no.

Now I’m not sure if more players will opt out. To the NHL’s credit, their bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto have not seen any COVID-19 positive cases yet.

But this is Rask’s statement — it’s okay to say no. From healthy scratch to star goaltender, it’s okay to say no.

Intended or not, that’s an important message for hockey players everywhere.

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