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

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read