The Vancouver Canucks are going to suffer through a grueling month-long stretch just to complete an absolutely forgettable regular season.
The sixth-place team is getting ready to face the Edmonton Oilers on Friday and the Toronto Maple Leafs the very next day — the club's first set of games since March 24 due to the team shutting down operations because of a massive outbreak that saw a total of 22 players and four staff test positive for COVID-19, including some that developed symptoms.
After that weekend, they will play nine games in the following 14 days. A brutal amount of contests during normal times, and the foreshadowed fatigue is only heightened by the fact that a large portion of these players are still trying to recover from the very virus which caused the postponement of their season.
Canucks forward J.T. Miller spoke up on Wednesday about the team’s hastened return to action and the absurd — and unsafe — challenge that lies ahead.
“I hope people don’t take this the wrong way,” Miller told the media. “I’m a super competitive guy... but this isn’t about hockey for our team. This is about the health and safety of our players, their family and their children. This isn’t about making the playoffs...What we're being asked to do is not going to be too safe, if you're asking me."
Considering the fact that by some projections, the Canucks currently sit at a 4 percent chance of making the playoffs, this is a large ask for a team that is in the situation they are in.
After postponing eight games and being off the ice for several weeks, Vancouver is having a grand total of one (1) single practice ahead of their Friday matchup against the Oilers.
“I don’t feel ready if I’m being honest... It's kind of crazy,” Miller continued. “I know everyone has a job to do but to expect our entire team to be ready to play in one practice and a pre-game skate is a bit hard to comprehend.
“To be brutally honest, we're going to need more time than this to come back and play hockey. Even the guys that didn't get it aren't ready."
Seven Canucks players remain on the NHL’s COVID protocol list as of Wednesday afternoon: Alex Edler, Jalen Chatfield, Nils Höglander, Zack MacEwen, Jayce Hawryluk, Nate Schmidt, and Jake Virtanen.
Miller was one of the rare Vancouver players that did not have a positive test in the last few weeks, but he understands that it’s going to be an uphill battle to get back on the ice.
"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.
The Canucks will play their remaining 19 games in the next 30 days, including six back-to-backs, as the NHL attempts to avoid pushing back the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a second consecutive season.
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