What the NHL Is Asking of the Vancouver Canucks Is "Not Going to Be Too Safe"

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What the NHL Is Asking of the Vancouver Canucks Is “Not Going to Be Too Safe”

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“What we’re being asked to do is not going to be too safe.”

If you haven’t heard about the situation the Vancouver Canucks are in regarding their current COVID-19 outbreak, it’s the worst any team in the league has seen this season.

The Canucks haven’t played since March 24th as the team was ravaged by a COVID outbreak involving a variant of the virus. Many players were symptomatic and the peak number of players that were placed in protocol was 25. The team is being put back on the ice this week and is scheduled for a game Friday against the Oilers. To complete its 56-game schedule, Vancouver must play its remaining 19 games in 31 days, including five games in their first seven days back on the ice. To accommodate the Canucks games, the NHL has the North Division now ending its schedule May 16th; the regular season was originally scheduled to end on May 11th.

As of today, seven players remain in COVID protocol for Vancouver.

Players in the United States have begun to get vaccinated, including the Blackhawks just today, however rollout has been much slower in Canada.

Veteran forward J.T. Miller spoke with the media on Wednesday as the team is preparing to return to the ice for their one practice before getting ready to take on the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.

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The Canucks are not in the heat of the playoff race in the North Division, sitting 10 points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens.

What the NHL is asking the Canucks to do is downright stupid and dangerous to their health. “I hope people don’t take this the wrong way, I’m a super competitive guy… but this isn’t about hockey for our team,” Miller said in the interview, “This is about the health and safety of our players, their family and their children. This isn’t about making the playoffs.”

We don’t know the full long-term effects that having a case of COVID can do. Mental “fog” and issues breathing are just two of the effects that we do know about and according the ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, one Canucks player who had COVID and was told he is no longer contagious, is experiencing the “fog” side effect and although is planning on playing when the Canucks return, is concerned for “the unknown.”

Miller emphasized in his comments on Wednesday, the hesitation to return so quickly comes from what the COVID-19 virus does to ones athletic capabilities and the challenges that full recovery poses, even for elite athletes. For example, Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who tested positive for COVID-19 in January, still uses an inhaler prior to every game to aide in his recovery.

To expect the Canucks to step onto the ice as the same team that last played on March 24th, as far as competitiveness goes, is a ridiculous ask of the league.

Miller said that even players who were in protocol but never tested positive would still need more time to get back to game speed before being thrown into the 19 games in 31 days schedule. “It’s frustrating, we try to talk about our number one priority is our players health and their families safety and it’s impossible to achieve that with what we’re being asked to do.” Miller said in the media call.

The NHL has generally fumbled their way through this season when it comes to their handling of teams with COVID. To force a team that nearly had their entire roster in the COVID protocol and have double-digit positive cases to finish a season at the drop of a hat and without the team being in true playoff contention is horrible, horrible optics for the league. If the league does not take a good hard look at what Miller is saying about the team as they try to head back onto the ice, they are going to face harsh criticisms if/when Canucks players face more serious health issues or injuries due to being pushed back into play too early.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said last week that no Canucks players have said they want to opt out of the rest of the season.

Of course they haven’t, these are hockey players. The current culture of the sport would eat them alive for saying they did not want to finish the season. Look what happened with Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask when he left the team to be with his family during the postseason bubble last summer. You think the reception from the NHL community would be generally accepting of a team opting out of the final 19 games of the season? Yeah right.

There’s no winning in this situation.

You hope for the best in the actions from the league moving forward after Miller’s comments and you hope for the fullest of recoveries from the players and the families affected by this outbreak. If the Canucks didn’t play another game this season, yes there would be negative financial implications, but everyone is already operating with negative financial implications this season. The NHL needs to address this and make the right decision to, for once, not put money over the health and safety of its players.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.