“After much discussion, NHL players believe that the best course of action would be to take a step back and not play tonight’s and tomorrow’s games as scheduled,” the NHL and NHL Players’ Association said in a statement. “The NHL supports the players’ decision and will reschedule those four games beginning Saturday and adjust the remainder of the Second Round schedule accordingly.”
The two games Thursday were Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, and Game 3 of the Western Conference Second Round between the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, scheduled for 9:45 p.m. ET at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
The two games Friday were Game 4 of the East Second Round between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET in Toronto, the East hub city, and Game 4 of the West Second Round between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, scheduled for 10 p.m. ET in Edmonton, the West hub city.
Players from each of four remaining Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs held a joint video news conference in Toronto, and players from the four remaining Western Conference teams did the same in Edmonton, with all the other players from Golden Knights, Canucks, Stars and Avalanche standing behind them.
“I think this is a big enough statement just all these guys sticking together,” Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri said. “I’ve got so much more respect for every single player in this league by doing something like this, and obviously systemic racism, we can use these next couple days to further educate ourselves for the betterment of society. It’s something that needed to be done, and I think hockey is a team sport and team game and every single one of these guys are on the same page and stand with each other.”
The NHL postponements came after all three NBA playoff games scheduled to be played near Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday were postponed, a decision spurred by the police shooting Sunday of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The WNBA also postponed its three scheduled games Wednesday and Thursday in Bradenton, Florida. There were postponements in Major League Baseball each day and in Major League Soccer on Wednesday. Several NFL teams canceled practice Thursday.
The NBA announced Thursday it is hoping to resume its playoffs either Friday or Saturday.
Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves, who played an integral role in the conversations among the players in both hub cities, noted an important difference between the NHL players and those in the other sports.
“I think if you look around this room, there’s a lot of white athletes in here, and I think that’s the statement that’s being made right now,” Reaves said. “It’s great that the NBA did this and the MLB and the WNBA. They have a lot of Black players in those leagues. But for all these athletes in here just to take a stand and say, ‘You know what? We see the problem too and we stand behind you,’ I’d go to war with these guys. I hate their guts on the ice, but I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. This statement that they’ve made today is something that’s going to last.”
Reaves, Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner and Stars forwards Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson lined up next to each other and knelt during the U.S. and Canadian national anthems prior to the Stanley Cup Qualifier round-robin game between Vegas and Dallas in Edmonton on Aug. 3 as a show of support for the fight against racism and for social justice.
Dickinson viewed the players deciding not to play Thursday and Friday as another important step in that process.
“We can keep using our words, keep trying to get the message, but it comes down to action,” Dickinson said. “We have to start doing more.”
The NHL players said they hope taking two days off from playing can show that they are united against racism and also spark further conversations among fans on the subject.
“You know, these days need to be used in the right manner,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “Obviously, we need to step back, reflect a little bit, just to take a little moment to realize what’s going on. Obviously, there is a problem in the States and there is obviously the right reason to kind of why all the major sports are doing what they’re doing right now, to kind of make sure that we all realize that there needs to be change. And obviously it starts with the conversations and acts, that are going to be very important to follow.”
The NHL played its three games scheduled for Wednesday: a 3 p.m. ET game between the Islanders and Flyers; an 8 p.m. ET game between the Bruins and the Lightning; and a 10:30 p.m. ET game between the Avalanche and the Stars.
“Black and Brown communities continue to face real, painful experiences. The NHL and NHLPA recognize that much work remains to be done before we can play an appropriate role in a discussion centered on diversity, inclusion and social justice,” the NHL and NHLPA said. “We understand that the tragedies involving Jacob Blake, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others require us to recognize this moment. We pledge to work to use our sport to influence positive change in society.
“In this moment, the NHLPA and NHL are committed to working to foster more inclusive and welcoming environments within our arenas, offices and beyond.”
Though there was some brief discussion among players who played in the evening games Wednesday about whether to postpone those games, they decided to play and had a broader discussion Thursday among all the players still participating in the playoffs.
“As we discussed today with other teams, there are many more guys who could be sitting up here and delivering this message who were in the conversation today,” Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “By no means do we view ourselves as a face of this. We want every NHLer to become the face of this movement. That’s the most important thing. This isn’t just one guy, this is everyone getting behind this and everyone knowing it’s a full, 100 percent commitment.”
Forward JT Brown, the first NHL player to engage in a social justice protest at a game when he raised his first in the air during the U.S. national anthem as a member of the Lightning three years ago, said the postponement of these games shows that players are unified in combating inequality and racism.
“Personally, I think it’s a good sign to see the players coming together and show unity to fight for social justice,” said Brown, who played for the Minnesota Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa in 2019-20. “I’m sure teams had to talk to each other to come to this conclusion, and it wasn’t just one person on each team deciding this. I think, as a whole, it’s a good step going forward that they were able to come to one decision and unify as the rest of the teams that are still there (in the hub cities).”