The Rule vs. The Spirit of The Rule

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Posted January 22, 2021

(Caps Outsider)

On Friday night, the Capitals will play their first of at least four games with captain Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov after the four gathered in Ovechkin’s hotel room in clear violation of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. The organization was also fined $100,000.

The guidelines clearly state that players are “required to stay in a single occupancy room, and no individual shall permit guests or other personnel in their room.” By going into a room that was not their own, Kuznetsov, Orlov and Samsonov violated the rule, and by hosting “guests” Ovechkin broke the rule as well.

Did they break the rule? Yes. Did they break the spirit of the rule? No.

The rule was made to prevent circumstances like the one around the Seattle Seahawks and Kemah Siverand, who tried to sneak a woman into his hotel room. The spirit of the rule was not made to prevent teammates hanging out in the same room, but rather to prevent outside personnel from entering the room.

The NHL dealt with this same issue, “the rule” vs “the spirit of the rule” over the last few years with the offside challenges. Teams would challenge to see if a players skate was centimeters off the ice when they straddled the blue line, thus making the play offside, despite it having little to no impact on the play. While technically the play was offside, it didn’t violate the spirit of the offside rule where a player could just wait inside the offensive zone. As a result, the NHL changed the rule this season because the spirit of the rule was broken.

The situation became muddled when The Washington Post reported that Samsonov tested positive. Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and Orlov were clearly close contacts of Samsonov having been in the hotel room together. But they shouldn’t be the only ones.

Screenshot of Samsonov unmasked in the locker room

The above is a screenshot of the video the Caps released after the first game in Buffalo on Jan. 15, or just four days before the team found out Samsonov tested positive. The video is just 1:21 long, but it is hard to believe Samsonov wouldn’t be wearing a mask for just the video.  Samsonov played again on Sunday, or less than 48 hours before, the positive test was revealed to the team. While there is no video from inside the locker room from that day, what are the chances that Samsonov changed his behavior?

Ovechkin, Orlov and Kuznetsov are clearly close contacts of Samsonov. But it is hard to believe they are the only close contacts as he was maskless in the locker room. There is no doubt that Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Orlov broke the rule, but they didn’t break the spirit of the rule as the four of them are constantly around one another in approved settings. It seems the NHL is either selectively enforcing the rule by requiring just them to quarantine or the  rule wasn’t well thought out.

Maybe it’s both.