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

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

File photo
Leduc RCMP lay charges in theft of catalytic converters

Two males arresed and charged with theft of several catalytic converters.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, updates media on the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, Friday, March 20, 2020. Hinshaw says residents in long-term care and supportive living facilities will remain the priority as the province grapples with a looming slowdown in COVID-19 vaccine supply. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta long-term care residents remain priority in looming slowdown of COVID vaccine

There are 119 patients in intensive care and 1,463 people have died

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns, apologizes for ‘tensions’ at Rideau Hall

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Calgary flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

(Photo submitted)
Community Futures brings back Social Media Challenge for 2021

This time the challenge is for non-profits and community groups

Most Read