Connor McDavid knows what that looks like to some.
Millionaire hockey players traveling from province to province for games as everyone urged to refrain from doing anything similar remotely as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking personal havoc and from coast to coast.
“These are unprecedented times,” McDavid said. “We are not blind to understand that we are very lucky to be able to come into work to play the game we love.”
But the Edmonton Oilers captain – the superstar of superstars in the sport – also wants critics to understand that one of the reasons the NHL is giving him a chance is to try and add some normalcy to what looks like an increasingly gloomy winter of 2021.
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“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 put our bodies on the line not only for each other, but also for the fans.”
The NHL’s shortened 56-game season, which features a single northern division made up of seven teams from Canada to avoid crossing the border – fans will also not be allowed into arenas as it is – should start on Wednesday. The players were tested every day during training camp, and this will continue for at least the first four weeks of the program.
And when the teams hit the road, they will be limited to the hotel and arena. No restaurant or mix with the general population is allowed.
“It’s to keep us safe,” Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat said. “This is to ensure the safety of community members.”
On the other hand, a person could fly from Toronto to Edmonton or from Winnipeg to Ottawa tomorrow and not face any restrictions on arrival.
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“It’s not apple to apple,” said Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. “We are tested every day.
“I realize that it’s not easy for anyone, but it is.”
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Like a number of league officials, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff participated in some of the conference calls as the NHL, the players’ association and various levels of government developed public health protocols acceptable to all parties.
“It’s not something that is taken lightly,” he said of his involvement in a pandemic. “Sport is not all about wins and losses. I think it’s a mental psyche of a community, a mental psyche of a society.
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“I think everyone is looking for something to feel good about.”
But is it fair that professional athletes can play and make a living as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, the country climbs to 17,000 dead, businesses fail and amateur sports – from minor hockey to gymnastics – stay on the ice?
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“I understand there are people against it,” said Toronto Maple Leafs center Jason Spezza. “We are all very aware of the fact that we are lucky to be able to continue working.”
“What happens outside our own four walls is not lost on us,” added Brad Treliving, general manager of the Calgary Flames, of the optics. “We have taken every precaution possible to do so as safely and responsibly in the time as we are. I understand that there will be different points of view, and I respect them.
“But I think as a league we have taken all possible considerations. ”
The NHL successfully restarted its 2019-20 pandemic-delayed season in August and September thanks to tightly controlled bubbles that did not result in any positive tests in Toronto and Edmonton. While the upcoming campaign will have many measures in place, it is not the same level of protection.
US-based teams have also been lined up in newly formed divisions and, like franchises north of the border, will only play against these clubs to reduce travel and the risk of infection.
But there have already been cracks.
The Dallas Stars announced Friday that six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during camp, while the Columbus Blue Jackets kept some of their roster off the ice by “an abundance of caution ”. Then on Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins canceled practice for the same reason.
No member of the Canadian teams has so far tested positive at camp.
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Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said the rules and protocols go beyond players to include their own personal bubbles, which in turn should create team bubbles which, while not not as safe as summer, should further limit the risk of exposure.
“The protocols that are in place are extremely limited not only to them, but to their families, and where they are allowed to go and what they are allowed to do,” Dubas said. “Hopefully, as we get closer to the end of it all, we can have fans back in our building and enjoying things as normally as possible in the spring and summer. But above all, there is the health and safety of all.
Montreal winger Brendan Gallagher said that in addition to boosting morale, playing can help boost a struggling economy.
“There are so many people who rely on these games,” he says. “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’re in the entertainment business, but it’s a business and you have to make money. Hopefully, we can get over this situation and everyone can stay safe, but we have a job to do and we have been asked to do it. We are happy to oblige. ”
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And while part of society will no doubt be opposed, the race for the Stanley Cup is fast approaching.
“Some people may not like the idea that we are able to travel and play,” McDavid said. “But we’re fortunate to be able to come into work and do it for the fans sitting at home.”
-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.
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