Illness and injury uncertainty abound as NHL camps open
Andrew Copp got a chance to skate in Michigan but isn’t sure how many of his Winnipeg teammates have been on the ice.
Voluntary player workouts have been going on for more than a month, but full NHL teams will be together Monday for the first time since March. Mixed with the excitement of hockey being back is the uncertainty of which and how many players might opt out and how the long layoff could contribute to injuries.
“(It’s about) trying to make sure that when you come back your hips and groins are all right,” Copp said. “For some guys, it’s going to be ease in and make sure you make it through the first four or five games healthy and making sure you don’t hurt yourself. At the same time, we are getting ready for the playoffs.”
It’s a training camp unlike any in history, with expanded rosters on 24 teams coming back from a four-month absence to compete for the Stanley Cup. It’s a two-week sprint from home cities to Toronto for Eastern teams and Edmonton, Alberta, for their Western counterparts.
Already, a handful of players have opted out of participating and more could make the same decision before a Monday afternoon deadline. More than half the eligible players have already been skating at team facilities trying to get their legs under them, and ramping up for the resumption of the season takes another step with the start of organized workouts.
“It will be different for everybody,” Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford said. “It’s a camp in the middle of the summer after guys have had time off. It will be interesting to see how certain guys have prepared.”
Islanders coach Barry Trotz figures this will be a chance to gauge how mentally and physically prepared players are for this grind. There was no mandatory ice time or workout regimen before this point, though some players skated overseas when rinks were closed in North America for the COVID-19 pandemic and others have since made sure to lace up their skates.
“Now that it’s real, we’ll find out exactly where everybody is,” Trotz said. “The team that can really get their team structure-wise and attitude and execution and out that in place as quick as possible, you have a chance to win. The discipline and structure are paramount to having success.”
Some of that discipline is players and their loved ones staying home as much as possible before teams fly to the quarantined “hub cities” of Toronto and Edmonton.
Carolina forward Justin Williams said his teammates have been told to tighten up the circles of people they’re around for the next couple of weeks to keep the Hurricanes from having an outbreak.
Players and staff will be tested every other day during camp, similar to Major League Baseball’s policy that has come under fire for delays on results. Testing will be daily once games start.
The injury question could linger. The NHL is prohibiting teams from revealing injury or illness information as a way to project player privacy with the novel coronavirus. The league reported 35 players testing positive since June 8.
“It was a high priority for guys, no question,” NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said. “Early on, guys were very sensitive to it. Obviously, they’re contacting everyone that they know that they’ve been in touch with and the ID tracing. But (privacy) was very important to the players.”
Already, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos won’t be 100% for the start of camp because of a new lower-body injury, and Minnesota defenseman Greg Pateryn is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. It’ll be a mystery from this point forward if a player is injured, ill or otherwise.
But players are ready for a brave new world of summer camp.
“It’s a little bizarre,” Copp said. “Even when you are at the rink, the protocols definitely make it a different feel. ... But I think everyone is just kind of amped and ready to go.”
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