While still in the middle of a pandemic the NHL is barreling ahead with their plans to return to the ice and award the 2019-20 Stanley Cup, for some reason. While we all try to figure out the Draft Lottery calculus and puzzle over why the Carolina Hurricanes keep complaining about the playoff (play-in?) format, there are still some very important questions that the league needs to answer. The biggest question that should be on everyone’s lips revolves around safety because, as of this writing, there is still no known cure for COVID-19 and having 24 teams travel to two locations puts so many people at risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus.
The risks of catching COVID-19 are not just in the short term, as the respiratory disease targets the lungs but can lead to a cascading effect of organ damage or failure, but also in the long term. Medical studies of COVID-19 survivors found that patients come out the other side of the virus with long-term lung damage which can also lead to damage in other organs like the kidneys or heart. In fact, Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle wrote extensively on Twitter about these very concerns when discussing Major League Baseball’s attempts to start their season amid the pandemic.
Now, what does all of this have to do with Kaapo Kakko? Well, as Mike wrote earlier this season, the 18 year old Finnish forward was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac disease in 2014. While the diseases are manageable, it takes a lot of focus and a strict diet to keep them at bay. That he’s been able to not just play hockey, but play it at the highest level is commendable but it also puts a huge target on the winger’s back as Kaapo Kakko is immunocompromised due to the diabetes. As the CDC states on their website,“...people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.” Any attempt by the NHL to get back on the ice puts Kakko at a heightened risk of exposure which could very well be life threatening.
However, Kakko isn’t alone in this predicament as Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and shares similar risks that Kakko does. Both Domi and Kakko have to travel internationally in order to play when the league resumes and that means going through airports, sitting in a 300 foot long, pressurized, and sealed metal tube next to someone for hours on end heightening their risk of exposure; unless, they don’t play.
A few days ago, Rangers President John Davidson was asked about Kakko and his playing status:
JD on the plan for Kakko, who has diabetes and celiac disease:— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) May 28, 2020
“If he, hypothetically, cannot play, he can’t play. We’re going to take care of him, he’s a big part of us. But we listen to the science, we listen to the medical people, they’re going to tell us what to do." #NYR
It is encouraging to see JD come out ahead of the curve by stating bluntly that if Kakko can’t play, he won’t play noting that the team will listen to medical experts and decide the best course of action. These playoff/play-in/whatever games aren’t worth the risk not only to Kakko’s future career but his life and keeping him home while the team travels to whatever hub city their assigned to is the best move they can make regarding the 18 year old.
Though, if we’re being honest, the safest thing for Kaapo Kakko, and all players really, is that they don’t play, that the NHL cancels the return to play idea and they just work on getting the 2020-21 season off as safely as possible. But it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen though.