VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are discussing moving their summer training camp to the United States, which would make potentially the longest road trip in team history even longer.
General manager Jim Benning said Wednesday that the 14-day quarantine requirement the Canadian government implemented to help contain the coronavirus is such a steep disadvantage competitively that the Canucks are in the “early stages” of discussions about moving their training camp across the border if the National Hockey League re-starts this summer with both hub cities in the U.S.
The league confirmed on Tuesday plans to stage a 24-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament in two hub cities, but NHL vice-president Bill Daly indicated later in the day that Ottawa’s two-week mandatory quarantine for travellers arriving from outside Canada is a deal-killer for the Canadian cities bidding to host games for 12 teams.
Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto are among the 10 cities identified by the NHL as potential playoff sites should the league successfully return from the coronavirus shutdown that began on March 12.
“It’s a big concern for us,” Benning said of the quarantine requirement. “We worry about it because that’s 14 days before we’re going to start a grueling training camp and get into playing playoff-style games. Basically, we’re telling our players they’ve got to sit around their homes or apartments, and they can’t, you know, do the kind of training they need to do to get ready for an NHL training camp. I know the government officials are looking at it. We don’t like it, but we understand we need to do what’s right for everybody involved for the safety of people.”
Half of Vancouver’s roster is comprised of players currently outside of Canada — five Americans, two Canadians and a Swede are in the U.S., while three other Canucks are in Sweden – who are subject to quarantine upon return.
The NHL is in the process of reopening its facilities. But while players in American cities will be skating and conditioning themselves to get ready for July training camps and a planned NHL restart in mid-summer, players returning to Canadian teams from outside the country could be doing pushups at home for two weeks.
No wonder the Canucks are thinking about taking training camp to the U.S.
“We’ve talked about that,” Benning said. “We have another hockey-ops meeting… this afternoon, so we’re going to talk about that again. It’s something that we’re thinking about. But also, too, we just want to give it a few more days just to see if something is going to change (with the quarantine requirement). In a perfect scenario, we’d like to use our facilities. But we’ve talked about moving it off-site, too.”
Daly said the NHL is talking to the Canadian government about a solution to the quarantine issue, although B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters on Tuesday the province will “not be bending the rules in any way that would put what we have achieved here in B.C. at risk.”
B.C. has one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in North America and Europe and on Tuesday, for the first time since April 17, reported no new deaths. There were 11 new cases of the virus.
With training camps starting no earlier than July 1, according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Canuck players who are outside of the country have lots of time to return to Vancouver, serve their quarantine sentences, and still get ready for camp.
But those 14 days could be better used to train with U.S. teams whose facilities will soon be open to all NHL players before training camps. Vancouver defenceman Jordie Benn and Swedish winger Loui Eriksson, for instance, are in Texas and can skate with the Dallas Stars, while forward Adam Gaudette lives in Boston and can train with the Bruins. J.T. Miller is close to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Tyler Toffoli and Thatcher Demko could make the drive from Southern California to work out with the Vegas Golden Knights or Arizona Coyotes.
The optics for federal and provincial governments are obviously tricky. Even if there is little health risk posed by returning NHL players, no one wants to be seen as bending rules to suit millionaire athletes.
NHL teams, however, can legitimately argue that with their private medical staffs and resources to independently test and monitor players, quarantine guidelines should reflect actual risk. There is also significant economic impact at stake to an economy ravaged by coronavirus consequences.
Benning said he has spoken to general managers of other Canadian teams about the issue.
“The league is going to let us know three weeks before we go into (training camps), so we’re going to have time here to figure all that out,” he said. “We’re still in the early stages of moving it off-site. I want to see what happens here through the weekend. Things change by the hour, by the day, so we’re nowhere near making that decision to take it off-site. But we’re going to continue to talk about it and think about it and we’ll decide at the end what’s best for our team to get them ready to play.”
The Canucks have a five-game series against the Minnesota Wild to qualify for the 16-team playoffs.