VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks aren’t getting an exhibition game to prepare for the NHL season, but at least they had a COVID day to help them get ready.
With a streamlined practice of 24 players, the Canucks returned to the ice Monday after scheduled workouts on Sunday were abruptly cancelled for what coach Travis Green revealed was a “false positive” test for a player.
This is how the season is going to be.
The Dallas Stars suffered a coronavirus outbreak during training camp, and a handful of other teams have had to adjust practice schedules or rosters due to COVID test results and/or contact tracing. There is no protective “bubble” this season in which NHL players can be shielded from the global pandemic.
They’re playing in the real world, working in it with the rest of us, as vulnerable to sickness as everyone else.
No wonder Green has retained the buzzword the Canucks adopted for last summer’s Stanley Cup tournament: adaptable.
“We've seen it in other sports,” Green explained Monday. “We've already seen it in our sport, so it's probably going to be that way. It's going to happen. It's a little bit of a wake-up call, too, just making sure that we're doing the right things. And the next time it happens, it won't be as big of a surprise to our group.”
“Yeah, classic case of adaptability, you know?” defenceman Nate Schmidt said. “That's really what it comes down to. We're going have things like this. I mean, even if it's inconclusive, false, whatever you want to call it, it sucks. But you can't be naive to think that things like this are (not) going to happen.”
The only player missing Monday from the Canucks’ projected roster was depth defenceman Jordie Benn. Green said that the veteran “wasn’t available today.”
The Canucks practise again Tuesday at Rogers Arena before flying to Edmonton for their season-opener against the Oilers on Wednesday. We think.
After fulfilling the league-mandated one-week travel quarantine, defenceman Travis Hamonic finally practised with the Canucks. His pairing alongside the dynamic Quinn Hughes, replacing former Canuck Chris Tanev in a defensive role, was expected.
Technically, Hamonic is on a professional tryout. He won’t sign the one-year deal he and the Canucks are believed to have outlined until Tuesday, so the former Calgary Flame wasn’t made available to the media on the daily Zoom calls.
“Anytime a player gets on the ice for the first time with a new team, regardless of when it is, there's a lot of thinking going on for them,” Green said. “Things are moving fast, new drills, new teammates. I thought he looked pretty good today. His wind was alright. But I'm not hasty to judge a player that has missed a week of training camp. I do like Hamonic a lot as a player, and I thought he looked good today.”
WHO’S YOUR DADDY NOW?
Hughes was among the Canucks who referred to Tanev as “Dad,” and the prodigy credited his season-long partner for helping him transition to the NHL last year. Hughes spent virtually every day of last season with Tanev, who was partnered with the rookie from the first day of training camp.
Hughes began this camp with Jalen Chatfield, but lately has seen his blue-line partner change almost daily while the Canucks waited for Hamonic to become available. This isn’t ideal preparation for a 21-year-old who could average 25 minutes a night in his sophomore season.
“Definitely different because last year the whole goal was for me to play with Chris,” Hughes said. “The whole camp we were trying to just figure each other out, and that obviously helped us going into the year. This year, it's not like that. I had probably three or four different partners (before) Travis coming in today. But at the end of the day, you know it doesn't really matter. We've got a lot of great players here, great options, and I'm excited that Travis is here now.”
Loui Eriksson, the $36-million free-agent disappointment who has two years remaining on his contract, was among six Canucks waived on Monday, subject to re-assignment. There was a bookkeeping element to the transactions as the Canucks need to know whether these players would clear before the team sets its 23-man roster and six-player taxi squad ahead of Wednesday’s opener.
Eriksson could still end up on the taxi squad, but it’s also possible he has played his final game with the Canucks. In 245 games over four years in Vancouver, the 35-year-old has contributed just 38 goals and 89 points. He has been paid $31 million so far.
General manager Jim Benning tried unsuccessfully to trade his way out of his worst mistake with the Canucks, and the team had hoped Eriksson might agree to simply terminate his contract rather than potentially finish his career in the minors. The winger’s buyout-proof contract has only $5 million remaining over its final two years.
If Eriksson is assigned to the taxi squad or buried in the AHL, the Canucks will save $1.075 million against his $6-million annual cap charge.
MORE SCHMIDT PLEASE
Canucks defenceman Nate Schmidt’s personality is so effervescent, even the stultifying medium of video calls can’t suppress him.
Appearing in Monday’s Zoom call with goalie Braden Holtby, his friend and former teammate with the Washington Capitals, Schmidt took over the interview.
“I was actually going to ask you a question,” Schmidt said, turning to Holtby. “Is it harder to get your angles down with a new team, or is it harder to play the puck on a new team.”
Holtby: “Playing the puck. Getting used to the guys, the lingo. Every team has different. . .”
Holtby: “Terminology, yeah. Getting to know everyone's voices.”
Schmidt: “I actually didn't even think of that. Did you recognize my voice the first time?”
Holtby: “It's pretty easy to spot.”
Asked if he ever has a lousy day at the rink, Schmidt said: “There are days after an adult beverage or two where you maybe don't have quite the same energy. But hey, you're still coming in and you're still getting to see the guys. I love playing hockey. Let's be real here: we get to play a game.”
Schmidt says he actually has to calm himself between periods so he doesn’t squander energy talking with teammates.
“I don't drink any caffeine,” he said. “I don't know what that would be like.”
MONDAY’S PRACTICE COMBOS
Forwards: J.T. Miller-Elias Pettersson-Brock Boeser, Tanner Pearson-Bo Horvat-Nils Hoglander, Antoine Roussel-Adam Gaudette-Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte-Jay Beagle-Brandon Sutter.
Defencemen: Alex Edler-Nate Schmidt, Quinn Hughes-Travis Hamonic, Olli Juolevi-Tyler Myers.
Goalies: Braden Holtby, Thatcher Demko.
Extra skaters: forwards Zack MacEwen, Marc Michaelis; defencemen Jack Rathbone, Jalen Chatfield.