Oilers continuing to adapt amid scheduling uncertainty

Gene Principe and Mark Spector chat about the Canucks' postponements as well as how the Edmonton Oilers organization has reacted to the schedule changes.

EDMONTON — “Strange times,” reckoned Connor McDavid. “Can’t say that enough.”

In a season that has been anything but predictable, the Edmonton Oilers left their suitcases by the door for another day on Thursday, cancelling the flight to Vancouver for a postponed Friday night game. They’ll fly on Friday instead to Winnipeg — assuming nothing comes up between now and then.

As a COVD-19 survivor, McDavid knows nobody wants to hear a professional hockey player complain about an inconvenient schedule, when families — including those of the Vancouver Canucks players — are dealing with the virus and its variants.

“It’s tough to feel bad for ourselves when there are people who aren’t even allowed to go in to work, go to school and all the things that they would normally do,” McDavid said. “We are fortunate to be able to come into work and live a fairly normal life.”

And then there is this: “There are lots of people sitting at home watching games and counting on us to keep them somewhat entertained. That’s something we feel responsible for, and love to do. It’s tough to complain about a couple of scheduling issues.”

McDavid spoke out when the NHL made Edmonton play an add-on game at the end of a long road trip that fell on the same night as the Colby Cave celebration of life. His rare discontent was registered, he was dead right, and now he’s moved on.

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With five games remaining against the Canucks, McDavid just hopes that Vancouver is ready to compete at an NHL level sometime soon.

“Almost all of them had it, so it’s a very dangerous situation. We’re hopeful … everyone can be healthy and fit to play at some point,” said the Oilers captain, who learned of the postponement about 90 minutes after walking off the practice ice in Edmonton.

No one wants be the team that walks into Vancouver and beats up on an unfit, unprepared and understaffed club. Playing them on Friday after just one practice as a team didn’t feel right, frankly.

“Whether they practice once or three times … it’s going to be hard either way,” McDavid said. “This situation has put them in a difficult spot. They’re going to have to play games eventually.”

While several of the Canucks players and staff are said to be struggling with symptoms, the fact that two of the league’s premier players — McDavid and Auston Matthews — have both fully recovered from their bouts with the coronavirus is a small positive for the Canucks.

“I was one of the lucky ones who wasn’t too greatly affected by it,” McDavid said. “It was at a time when there wasn’t a ton being asked of me. I took my time off and got back into it after my quarantine was done. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.”

Some Oilers players have been keeping up with their friends on the Canucks. We’re not able to hold a vote, but we would bet that several Oilers players would side with J.T. Miller and the Canucks players who pushed back against playing so soon after their illness.

“You grow relationships, and I have a guy over there who I’ve trained with for the last 10 years,” defenceman Kris Russell said. “When you see him go on the (COVID protocol) list you reach out, you wish him the best. You’re trying to go about your business, but you’re worried about him and his family.

“You know, the NHL is a close-knit group. When you see how quick it went through that team, it’s definitely something that you don’t want to see.”

So we asked head coach Dave Tippett: Can a schedule that hasn’t killed the Oilers perhaps make them stronger? Is there some resiliency to be gained from being asked to roll with the punches, the way his team has been this season?

“Probably a little more resilient,” he said. “As you go through things, you find out how you dealt with them.”

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They planned for this, even if the Oilers hoped those plans would be for naught.

“We talked about this early in the year, that there could be a lot of ups and downs, and schedule changes. There is so much uncertainty,” Tippett said. “Now, it’s easy to talk about it, and if you don’t have to go through it you don’t worry about it.

“But when you talk about it — and then you’re actually confronted with it — now you have to put what you said into play. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Five of the Oilers’ remaining 14 games are scheduled to be played against Vancouver. When they happen, where they happen, if they happen…?

“Just tell us where we should be,” Tippett said, “and we’re going to show up and play.”


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