Brad Treliving is no medical doctor, but his four months of research of COVID-19 leads him to make this assertion:
“You don’t have to be dancing on a table in a nightclub at 4 a.m. to get this disease,” said the Calgary Flames GM on Sunday, the eve of NHL training camps opening.
It can find you in many ways, which is why officials league-wide have plenty of reason to be anxious as players officially reconvene Monday.
Well, most players.
Some, like Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic, have opted out, citing family reasons.
That is their right, according to the league’s return-to-play plan.
Others will be noticeably absent from their first skate due to anything from pulled hamstrings too, well, COVID-19.
Yes, a significant number of teams are currently dealing with players who tested positive, which the league is expected to confirm Monday when it puts out its weekly release.
There will be no specifics, such as player names or the teams they play for.
As far as the daily absences go, don’t expect the teams or league to clarify, which is sure to spark rampant speculation every single day from now until the Stanley Cup is awarded the first week of October.
If we get that far.
“I’ve been threatened with life and liberty by the league that we can’t comment on any player’s health status,” reiterated Treliving.
“Any player not on the ice is listed just as ‘unavailable to practice.’ That’s not the Calgary Flames, that’s coming from the league.”
No more upper or lower body declarations.
“There’s going to be players in and out of practice with guys being off and coming back to camp,” said Treliving.
“You’ve got to get the work in, but the end goal is getting the group ready for Aug 1, not July 17. Guys have put the work in. I get regular reports and we had all our players here except Travis for the better part of a month and they’ve been going at it pretty strong for pretty long.”
And so, some will be on the limp already, causing excused absences from daily skates that will have the media and fans abuzz.
Right or wrong.
The new agreement prohibits traditional training camp fitness testing, and the reports Treliving has received on player well-being have been anecdotal.
The bigger fear through this pandemic still revolves around keeping everyone safe from the virus.
“This is what has kept me up at night,” said Treliving, who announced his 35-player training camp roster Sunday.
“Theoretically when you arrive at the hub clean you should be clean. But from now until then, you cross your fingers and do everything possible to shield the players.
“The players enter the building, they get temperature checks, COVID tests, masks, they come in individually and socially distance while working out. The building is cleaned after they leave, they are in separate dressing rooms. But where you are susceptible is when you leave the rink. As a team we’re on lockdown as much as we can be, to be as safe as possible to get to the hub. But it’s still out there.”
Players have been leaving the rink during Phase 2 skates with grab and go meals, are given help with grocery deliveries and are educated on the do’s and don’ts.
Yet, players are still getting the virus.
Following four months of tremendous work by the league and the Players’ Association to get to this point, the Flames are slated to open camp Monday with one group skating at 10 a.m. and another at 12:15.
The only surprise amongst the 31 skaters is Connor Mackey, who was signed by the Flames out of college in March and is ineligible to play in the playoffs as his contract doesn’t kick in until next season.
Juuso Valimaki will also be in camp after spending 10 months rehabbing from knee surgery, but isn’t expected to play due to the depth ahead of him and the fact one appearance this year means he’d have to be protected in next summer’s expansion draft.
Treliving said the call he received from Hamonic didn’t come as a huge surprise, and he understood the decision made in an effort to protect his family’s health.
“As a league, you hope and pray you’re not going to have any issues, but I think there’s a good chance…” said Treliving. “You see the numbers every week, so you hope it won’t affect the Return to Play plan.”
Assuming there isn’t a large outbreak at the last minute to derail plans, Treliving said one thing he can guarantee to be healthy is his team’s playoff mindset.
“What excites me is the mood and excitement of our team – they know they have something to prove,” said Treliving, whose club faces Winnipeg in the qualifying round starting Aug. 1.
“Our focus is the guy across the room – they think they have a good team and they think they’re capable of doing something special. I’m not a big believer in momentum carrying over from before the pause. You’re going to have to create your own momentum.”
And staying healthy is a big part of that.