With everyone experiencing a new normal, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev expects some bumps along the road as the NHL prepares to resume play, but praised the league for selecting two hub cities in Canada.
“I think it was a smart decision,” Tanev said during a conference call. “Both places we’re going seem to have the virus contained to a certain extent.
“Once you’re in the bubble, regardless of where it is, everyone, if they follow the rules, should be safe.”
On Monday, the league and the National Hockey League Players’ Association announced they had reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement that clears the way for a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament to be held in Edmonton and Toronto.
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Several US cities pursued hosting the tournament. Las Vegas was thought to be a favourite with Los Angeles and Chicago also considered. But with over three million COVID cases and 133,000 deaths in the U.S., the NHL decided to stay north of the border.
“It’s going to be a safe environment,” Tanev said. “It’s something no one has really ever experienced, so there is going to be learning experiences along the way. I think they did a good job picking the two cities.”
NHL teams are scheduled to begin training camps on Monday. Clubs will travel to the hub cities July 26 and the first round of the playoffs begin Aug. 1. The Stanley Cup winner will be decided in October.
Other leagues experiencing issues
The NBA and Major League Soccer also plan to hold tournaments in a single bubble city, but both leagues have experienced issues with players testing positive.
Last week, the NBA said 25 players and 10 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19 since June 23.
MLS has been forced to postpone two matches of its return tournament and FC Dallas has withdrawn from the competition after 10 players and one coach tested positive.
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Tanev hopes the protocols and testing procedures instituted by the NHL will keep the hockey bubbles safe.
“We’ll see what happens once everyone gets into training camp and how many positive tests there are and how controlled the virus is,” he said. “I think everything changes daily or even hourly.
“There is a chance one team could become highly infected and could ruin a lot of things. Hopefully no guys are infected as we go into the bubble and hopefully it stays that way.”
Canuck winger Jake Virtanen has been criticized after a video appeared on social media last week of him at a Vancouver night club without a mask and not social distancing.
“I think he knows he made a little bit of a mistake,” Tanev said. “It’s a tough situation when you’re not technically in quarantine and you’re allowed to go out.
“I think he knows that was obviously the wrong decision. I think guys, going forward, will be smarter.”
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Under the NHL format, 12 teams will begin play in each city. The first round will be a best-of-five, play-in series. The remaining three rounds will be best-of-seven.
After a long layoff and short training camp Tanev can’t predict the quality of the hockey.
“That play-in series is going to be a lot different for guys,” he said. “You’re sort of jumping into playoffs. As you get into the second and third rounds, the hockey will get quite good as guys get playing more.”
The games will also be played in building without fans.
“It’s going to be very different,” Tanev said. “I think the momentum swings will be different, especially when you don’t have fans cheering for you or [on the road] when the other team can get five or seven minutes of a momentum swing.”