Connor McDavid (97) skates during Edmonton Oilers training camp in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Connor McDavid (97) skates during Edmonton Oilers training camp in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

NHLers know not everyone’s happy they’re playing: ‘We’re not blind’

When teams head out on the road, they’ll be restricted to the hotel and arena

Connor McDavid knows what it looks like to some.

Millionaire hockey players travelling province to province for games when everyone else is asked to refrain from doing anything remotely similar as the COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave wreaks personal and financial havoc from coast to coast to coast.

“It’s unprecedented times,” McDavid said. “We’re not blind to understand that we’re very lucky to be able to come into work to play the game that we love.”

But the captain of the Edmonton Oilers — the sport’s superstar of superstars — also wants critics to understand that among the reasons the NHL is giving it a shot is to try and add some normalcy to what is looking like an increasingly dark winter of 2021.

“People are stuck at home and they need something to do,” McDavid said. “We’re going to play every other day for the next four or five months.

“We’re putting our bodies on the line not only for each other, but the fans.”

The NHL’s shortened 56-game season, which includes a one-time-only North Division consisting of Canada’s seven teams to avoid crossing the border — fans also won’t be allowed into arenas as things stand — is set to begin Wednesday. Players have been tested every day during training camp, and that will continue for at least the first four weeks of the schedule.

And when teams head out on the road, they’ll be restricted to the hotel and arena. No restaurants or mixing with the general population allowed.

“It’s to keep us safe,” Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “It’s to keep the people in the community safe.”

By contrast, a person could fly from Toronto to Edmonton or Winnipeg to Ottawa tomorrow and not face any restrictions upon arrival.

“It’s not apples to apples,” Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said. “We’re getting tested every single day.

“I’m aware that it’s not easy for anybody, but it is what it is.”

Like a number of league executives, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was on some of the conference calls as the NHL, the players’ association and various levels of government hashed out public health protocols acceptable to all parties.

“It’s not something that’s taken lightly,” he said of playing in a pandemic. “Having sports is about more than the wins and the losses. I think it’s about a mental psyche of a community, a mental psyche of a society.

“I think everyone’s looking for something to make them feel good.”

But is it fair that professional athletes get to play and earn a living as COVID-19 case counts continue to rise, the country creeps towards 17,000 deaths, businesses fail and amateur sports — from minor hockey to gymnastics — remain on ice?

“I understand that there are people against it,” Toronto Maple Leafs centre Jason Spezza said. “We’re all very cognizant of the fact that we’re lucky we’re allowed to keep working.”

“It’s not lost on us what’s going on outside our four walls,” Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving added of the optics. “We’ve taken every precaution we possibly can to do this as safely and responsibly in the time that we’re in. I understand there will be different views, and I respect those.

“But I think as a league we’ve taken every possible consideration.”

The NHL pulled off the restart to its pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season in August and September thanks to tightly controlled bubbles that resulted in zero positive tests in Toronto and Edmonton. While the upcoming campaign will have plenty of measures in place, it’s not the same level of protection.

U.S.-based teams have also being aligned in newly formed divisions, and like the franchises north of the border, will only play against those clubs to cut down on travel and the chance of infection.

But there have already been cracks.

The Dallas Stars announced Friday six players and two staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 during camp, while the Columbus Blue Jackets kept some of their roster off the ice out of “an abundance of caution.” Then on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins cancelled practice for the same reason.

No members of Canadian teams have so far tested positive during camp.

READ MORE: Canucks cancel Sunday workouts, practices after potential COVID exposure

Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said the rules and protocols actually go beyond the players to include their own personal bubbles, which in turn should create team bubbles that, while not as secure as the summer, it’s hoped will further limit risk of exposure.

“The protocols that are in place are extremely restricted to not only them, but their families, and where they’re permitted to go and what they’re permitted to do,” Dubas said. “Hopefully as we get near the end of everything, we’ll be able to have fans back in our building and enjoy things in the spring and summer as normal as possible. But first and foremost is the health and safety of everybody.”

Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher said apart from raising spirits, playing can help to boost a struggling economy.

“There’s so many people who rely on these games,” he said. “It’s a game for us, but for a lot of people it’s a business. When you look at these provinces that are bleeding for money right now, they need these games.

“We are in the entertainment business, but it’s a business, and money needs to be made. Hopefully we can get through this thing and everyone can stay safe, but we have a job to do and we’ve been asked to do it. We’re happy to oblige. “

And while a section of society will no doubt be opposed, the race for the Stanley Cup is now right around the corner.

“Some people may not love the idea that we’re able to travel and play,” McDavid said. “But we’re lucky to be able to come into work and do it for the fans sitting at home.”

-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.

___

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

River’s incredible story came to an end when he was finally caught in a live trap on Dec. 13, 2020, after spending 16 days of surviving on his own in a North Thompson Valley wilderness area. (James Akey photo)
Bringing River home for Christmas

Lost dog saved from B.C. wilderness by a community that cared

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

(Jill Hayward photo)
Barriere Elementary advises COVId-19 school exposure

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Barriere Elementary School advised school families that a… Continue reading

Dr. Rhonda Nixon has been appointed new superintendent and CEO for the School District 73. (SD73 photo)
SD73 Board of Education announces new superintendent

A new superintendent and CEO has been hired for SD73. The Board… Continue reading

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read