The Vancouver Canucks were the most recent victim in the NHL to COVID-19 and for many it was the more contagious Brazilian variant also known as p1. It’s suspected that patient zero is a now former player who wasn’t going along with the rules put in place. However, nothing was ever confirmed with exactly who started the outbreak or how the Brazilian p1 variant got there. Both the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils suffered outbreaks earlier in the season. However, it’s the timing of Vancouver’s outbreak that caused controversy with the return to play schedule.
The Canucks organization and the NHL agreed on a return to play date, however it seemed this came without player approval. It should also be noted that members of the coaching staff also contracted the virus. Vancouver was set to host the Edmonton Oilers Friday, the 16th and then the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday the 17th for a Hockey Night in Canada showdown. However, shortly after Canucks Left-Winger JT Miller spoke up in a media availability against a return to action that soon, those games were canceled.
The Canucks knew what they were doing, allowing Miller to speak and be his blunt, honest self. Despite not coming down with the virus himself, the extra rest hasn’t made it any easier on him.
“It sucks, we [Miller’s family] were fortunate enough to not get sick, but you feel for them, I’ve definitely felt guilt here and there, it’s just kind of one of those things,” Miller said.
For somebody like Miller to step up and be open and honest like he was is huge for not just his teammates, but players around the league. It was clear on social media with both fans and reporters that the Canucks organization agreeing with the league to play earlier than players would’ve been ready to didn’t go over well. The main issue that didn’t go over well was expecting Vancouver to play 19 games in 30 days.
“I haven’t really thought about hockey much, but at the same time, it’s kind of crazy. I know that everybody has a job to do, but to expect pretty much our entire team to be ready to play in one practice and a pre-game skate is a little bit hard to comprehend,” Miller said.
Even for Miller himself, who didn’t come down with it, he wasn’t ready to go back that soon either after everything the team had been through.
“I don’t really feel ready at all I mean to be completely honest,” Miller said.
Players heard and management controversy
Once Miller spoke up, it became a waiting game to see if Chairman Francesco Aquilini or General Manager Jim Benning would speak out in support of their players. Despite the team social media account sharing in two tweets what Miller said, it was silence from Aquilini and Benning. For many this changed the tide from an organization up to the NHL on behalf of the health of their players to the players twisting the arm of both the organization and the league.
Matt Sekeres, a host of a Vancouver, BC based sports talk show and podcast made some strong points when this was unfolding. This includes the fact that it wasn’t just the players and members of the coaching staff who came down with the virus, but their families too including wives and kids. Sekeres also explained how the inaction by Aquilini and Benning caused the union and who he called their far too quiet Executive Director Don Fehr into the fight.
After Miller spoke up, a final decision was made a few days later for the team to return to the ice Sunday, the 18th against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead of 19 games in 30 days, Vancouver will now play 19 games in 32 days. This gave the team two extra days to rest and recover before starting to resume practicing. However, even then, the team will be without a few players against Toronto as they remain in recovery.
Media coverage controversy
Days later after multiple media availabilities and the team slowly returning to the ice for practices after the schedule was modified, the organization made another controversial decision to close practices to the media. This is a violation of the NHL’s media regulations, which are codified in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players. The Canucks passed it off as giving the players returning from battling the virus, privacy.
Fans might pass off the media complaining about this as being sensitive or too critical on the organization or the players who coming back from battling the virus. However, it should be noted that there’s likely a bigger reason for the closure. The day the outbreak started within the team, a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) was in attendance and saw the supposed patient zero get pulled off the ice mid-practice. That writer being there at the start is the key reason that this story has been told as much as it has.
Multiple lessons have been learned throughout this situation starting with the mismanagement by the NHL and Canucks organization and how important it is for players to speak up on their behalf. The other main lesson is media access because of the job media members have to tell the story of what’s actually going on with whatever they may be covering.
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