Family continues to be at the forefront of all conversations as players returned to the rink, and decisions are being made with great care. Under the NHL’s protocols, players will be able to leave their hub city and come back under certain circumstances, including the birth of a child. When they return, they will have to isolate and test negative for four consecutive days before being cleared to return to play.
With his baby due so soon, Eller is making plans to be there for the birth.
“You’re going to have to take a lot of precautions for when you leave,” said Eller, who also has a seven-year-old daughter, Sophia. “Depending on how you travel and you travel back and forth and who you’re going to be in contact with and so on, I’ll have to serve some time inside the bubble and test a number of times before I can join my teammates again and play games. We’re working on trying to figure out how we do that the best possible way. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Winger Carl Hagelin has a similar situation, with the birth of his second child expected in September. He too is planning to be there for the birth, though he said Tuesday he hasn’t put much thought into it because it’s a little further away. The Hagelins also have a two-year-old daughter named Blanche.
“For me, I spoke to my wife too and she said as long as you come back when the kid is born, you’re welcome to leave,” he said. “She knows hockey is a big part of my life and it’s a big part of our family’s life, and so we have an opportunity here to win the Stanley Cup and that’s the goal right now.”
Multiple NHL players opted out of the playoffs because of family considerations, including former Capitals Karl Alzner and Mike Green. While no Capital opted out of the playoffs — the deadline to do so was Monday night — the players candidly talked about the importance of keeping their families safe amid the circumstances.
Training camp is considered to be one of the most delicate parts of the league’s return-to-play plan. For two weeks during camp players will not be required to self-isolate away from the rink. Instead, players and club personnel are expected to stay at home as much as possible, avoid unnecessary interaction with nonfamily members and not spend social time together in close contact.
NHL clubs will test players and club personnel every other day during training camp, and results must be available within 24 hours. Individuals whose results are not received within that time will not be allowed in team practice facilities.
“I think this phase presents the biggest risk in terms of we’re a bubble here in the rink, we can control who does what and all that, but once everybody goes home, you’re relying on individuals to be smart and take precautions,” Eller said. “You’re relying on the people that you’re hanging out with to do the same thing. So there’s no doubt in my mind this is the riskiest part, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see if there’s going to be more positive tests around the league, maybe even here. I would not be surprised.”
Each player is taking different precautions. Nicklas Backstrom decided his family would stay in Sweden while he went back to the D.C. area for training camp. Backstrom said he traveled back to the States in late July, while his fiancee, Liza Berg, and their three kids stayed in Sweden. Berg gave birth to the couple’s third child, Alizee, in late March. Alizee joins sister Haley, 6, and brother Vince, 3.
“I think we decide pretty early that I was going to go over myself,” Backstrom said. “We liked our setup better for my fiancee and kids to stay back in Sweden there. It wasn’t really a long conversation … We all want sports back, and we want to do what we love, you know?”
Meantime, Coach Todd Reirden followed a similar approach with his family.
Reirden’s teenage son, Travis, was born with common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder that leaves his body unable to defend against bacteria and viruses. To keep him in the safest possible environment, Reirden and his family decided that Travis and his wife, Shelby, would stay in Indiana near Shelby’s family and friends during training camp.
Reirden said he is still figuring out if he will have a chance to see his family before the team travels to Toronto on July 26, but is comfortable and happy with their decision.
Training camp notes: The Capitals continued to skate in two groups for their second day of camp. All players on the training camp roster participated in practice, minus backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov, defensive prospect Alex Alexeyev and forward prospect Shane Gersich. Samsonov and Alexeyev missed their second day of practice. Gersich practiced Monday.
For the rest of this season, teams are not allowed to share player injury and/or illness information, the league and the NHLPA announced last week, “out of respect for an individual player’s right to medical privacy.”
Additionally, Reirden said the team will play the Carolina Hurricanes for their one exhibition game in Toronto before the qualifying rounds/round robin begin. All teams will play in one exhibition game sometime between July 28-30 in their respective hub city.
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