Flames GM cautiously optimistic about NHL return
Alberta’s recently unveiled reopening strategy, coupled with the gaining steam of National Hockey League games resuming in hub cities, has many eagerly anticipating a return to normalcy.
However, Brad Treliving’s excitement is tempered.
The Calgary Flames general manager said that, while the forward motion is good news, they’re still at the mercy of health authorities to ensure the safety and health of all parties involved.
“This is a gradual approach and we’re not out of the woods,” Treliving said on Friday during his weekly media conference call. “We all have to be cautious of how we operate. But I just take it as there are signs that we are moving forward.
“It’s a positive. I haven’t broken it down, to be honest with you, of how it’s all going to work. But certainly the biggest point for me is, how does that relate to us with groups (of people)? I’m not talking about fans in the building right now.
"But organizing a training camp with 30-some-odd people, how does that work?”
Provincial guidelines from chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Henshaw have banned gatherings of more than 15 people through Aug. 31, while physical distancing measures — ensuring people stay two metres apart — are still in place to continue Alberta’s fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The province’s phased reopening, which was announced by Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday, would see the relaxing of restrictions on some public gatherings during Stage 2.
When asked about Edmonton’s potential of partially hosting the restart of the NHL, Kenney said Alberta would consider a plan put forth by the NHL “that follows our health guidelines with appropriate protective equipment and with nobody in the stands.”
While Kenney has talked with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in recent weeks, he added the Alberta government hasn’t received any potential plans yet.
Treliving indicated their group has plans in place, outlining how a training camp would look in a restricted format — three groups of 10 players, for example, or four groups of eight.
He added that the Flames are cognizant of potential limitations if they’re allowed to reopen their own facility to give players access to the ice and dressing rooms.
“Generally speaking, it’s a positive versus if the message was, ‘We’re on lockdown here for a few more months,’ ” Treliving said. “But we’re turning a little bit back to normal here.”
Prior to Treliving ’s hiring as GM in the spring of 2014, the Flames drew criticism in 2009 when some players and their families received the H1N1 flu vaccine at a special clinic with the help of Alberta Health Services.
He indicated preferential treatment like that wouldn’t be the case this time around when it comes to public health and safety.
“We’re never going to be in a position where we circumvent or get ahead of the line,” Treliving said. “I wasn’t here for the flu (H1N1) shot situation, but I’ve heard plenty about it and certainly we don’t want a repeat of that.”
Treliving assured their potential plans would satisfy AHS and provincial guidelines, but there is no rush to put anything into motion yet.
They have to follow the procedures just like everyone else, he said.
“You have to pump the brakes a little bit here,” Treliving said. “They’re going to let us know. The key to all of this stuff is going to be testing and I think we have to be careful — there are people that need testing, who are way more important than we are … when you start talking about if and when that time comes when we can re-engage, that’s going to come when the greater community is allowed to gather to a certain extent.”
The very nature of hockey at any level involves contact, incidental or intentional. There are many variables and uncontrollable aspects of the game from a health and safety perspective making physical distancing virtually impossible.
Testing to ensure players do not have the coronavirus will play a big role in a return to the ice, Treliving believes.
“In this new normal that we’ve been living the last six weeks, it seems really odd that we’re going to get to a point where hockey games will be happening and people will be colliding,” Treliving said. “But we’ll get there, whenever we get there.”