NHL GEARS UP TO ICE NEW BOYS OF SUMMER
Full training camps set to begin July 10, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the air
July 10, normally a date when NHL activity begins winding down after the playoffs, draft and free agency, is now a launch date for post-season training camps.
In a joint release Thursday, the league and players association have agreed full camps can commence on that day — at last a hard target on a calendar most have been guessing at since play halted March 12.
Yet it remains to be seen if the proposed 24-team tournament with its late summer target date will begin as planned. With COVID-19 recovery still overshadowing the entire world’s timetable, the league must move cautiously and in concert with the union. The latter wants to negotiate a safe environment in which to play and train over a number of weeks at camp and in the two tournament hub cities.
Thursday’s statement did advise that camp will only go ahead “provided that medical and safety conditions allow and the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play. The length of camp and therefore the start date for formal resumption of play will be determined at a future date.”
With Canada insisting on a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving, the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames could face issues and opt to hold their camps in the U.S. The Canadiens, in particular, don’t have a large amount of players in town yet and those coming in don’t want to sit around their residence for two weeks unable to train.
In Toronto, about 20 players have arrived or will soon clear quarantine, so going south is unlikely. Top scorer Auston Matthews and starting goalie Frederik Andersen have yet to arrive from the U.S., hoping the federal government relaxes the rule and the practice rink can be considered a quarantine haven rather than sitting out 14 days.
Another possible avenue for Canadian cities hoping to be hubs would be an agreement for enhanced daily COVID-19 testing of arrivals, to be done at the Canadian clubs’ expense.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has already said it would make such testing facilities available to the public when not in use.
Meanwhile, the hub cities have yet to be named. Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton were on commissioner Gary Bettman’s preliminary list revealed in late May, along with Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas,
Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minn., and Pittsburgh.
Edmonton is pushing hard at the provincial level, with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney touting his city’s low COVID-19 numbers and the boost that some business sent their way could mitigate tough economic times. While talks have gone on between the NHL and the Canadian government to relax 14-day restrictions on arrivals, it would be hard for NHL personnel, team support staff and families to come and go from a country that required them to isolate.
That would point to a couple of U.S. locations getting the nod. Speculation has Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago on the short list, with little or no media present in the rinks, other than a feed broadcast — likely NBC providing pictures back to crews in individual markets.
There was relief on many fronts that the wheels are turning a little faster toward a restart. As of this past Monday, players could return to their team’s practice facilities in small numbers, up to five or six on ice at one time, on a voluntary basis.
“Now it’s just a matter of putting in the time between now and July 10,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly, alternate captain of the Leafs. “Then we’ll get everyone together and hopefully from there it’ll be smooth sailing in terms of what we have to accomplish in order to go playing again. It’s obviously very helpful having dates.”
While the Leafs were in one of the top 16 playoff positions when play stopped, the Canadiens were looking at possible elimination. Now they’re facing Pittsburgh in a best-of-five qualifier.
“It’s a great opportunity,” the Habs’ Jeff Petry told The Detroit News from his hometown training base. “Three months ago, we were playing the last 10 games of our season and it was going to be over. Obviously, this whole situation isn’t anything that anybody expected, but the opportunity has come up and everyone is excited about it.
“Hopefully, everything works out and we can get back on the ice, because it’s playoff hockey and in a normal year anything can happen in the playoffs. To get that opportunity, it’s something we’re all looking forward to and excited about.”
Montreal Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry, his team out of the playoff picture when the NHL season paused March 12, is happy to have a second chance at the Stanley Cup through the new play-in round.