There’s still a long way to go for the NHL to resume play amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Hurricanes took an important first step Tuesday, skating in two groups at PNC Arena.
The team has taken a number of safety precautions, including asking players to fill out symptom forms before resuming skating, keep their distance in the locker room and gym, wear masks in the locker room and taking players’ temperatures upon arrival.
Staal said the team kept things simple on day one, going out to run through drills with assistant coach Jeff Daniels, getting skaters and goalies warmed up and reacclimated to the ice, limiting contact and “just ripping shots past [James Reimer].
“It was nice,” Staal said. “We had been skating a little bit at RCI, but getting back to the home arena at PNC, just back in the room with the trainer and everyone, it felt like a good day of work. It was a lot of fun to see the faces again, some of the fellas, but it’s still different. But it’s exciting that we’re moving forward and we’re taking steps to get back on the ice.”
Staal said the players have had some discussions about positive COVID-19 tests among NHL players (29), but he believes the team’s precautions will keep players as safe as possible.
“There’s been a little bit of talk here and there, but we’ve gone through our first day of Phase 2 and they’ve taken it quite seriously,” Staal said. “There’s a lot of things you’ve got to go through to make sure everyone’s as safe as possible. I thought they did a pretty good job so far. There’s just as much risk living your life and cruising through the grocery store as there is going to the rink. So it seems pretty good for me.”
Staal also said the players are keeping tabs on other leagues, such as the NBA and MLB, looking to restart, and players opting out.
He noted it would likely be difficult for the NHL to resume play if another league has to stop, but he’s hopeful the restart plans will work as intended.
“Every player has their own opinion on safety, including myself, but those are things that we have to discuss,” Staal said. “It’s not like we’ve done this before or anything. It has to be out there, we have to talk about it and find out the safest route to get back, but at the same time to get playing. At some point, we’re going to have to do it, so I think, for the most part, we’re kind of feeling it out and seeing how it goes. It could blow up, it could be great. No one really knows, but I hope for the most part, what I’ve seen is they’ve done the best they can to make sure that everyone’s safe and hopefully we’ll keep it that way.”
Staal noted that most players have been working out on their own to stay in shape and are ready to ramp back up. Still, he knows it’s a change in routine for everyone; he’s used to having summers off to spend on the lake while ramping up in September.
Everyone in the world, however, has changed their routine amid the pandemic, and the Canes and other NHL players are no different.
Staal also said that, while the players will likely have “some soreness” going through another Rod Brind’Amour training camp, but everyone should have fresh legs going into the restart.
“I think if you’re dialing your game all season and you roll into the playoffs you’ve got everyone humming, where taking two-three months completely off of hockey, mixing in a few skates here and there and going right into a playoff game, it’s going to be interesting hockey,” Staal said. “No one knows how it’s going to look, but we’re going to have some fresh legs and healthy bodies, and the hockey could be really exciting, who knows. There could be a lot fewer mistakes and stuff like that. Hopefully that’s not going to be our team, but it should make for some entertainment for sure.”
The Canes, in particular, should be bringing in some fresh bodies. After having surgery to repair a fractured fibula in January, Dougie Hamilton is good to go, and was back on the ice Tuesday.
There’s a chance of getting Brett Pesce, who had shoulder surgery in March, back. Trade deadline acquisition Sami Vatanen should also be ready to make his Hurricanes debut, giving the team a full lineup it didn’t think it would have this postseason.
“Roddy said it before, there’s lots of options,” Staal said. “It’s going to put even more pressure on players to perform. If guys aren’t going, I’m sure they’ll move in other guys, because we have that depth. That’s what good teams have, and to make a good playoff run, you’ve got to have that. It’s good to see Dougie back; I skated with him today. He looks good. I haven’t heard much on Pesce, but I’m sure he’s cruising along just fine too. We’ll see how it all plays out, but obviously other teams have a lot of injured guys back. Everyone’s raring to go. It’s definitely good to have a full deck, and hopefully we can utilize that.”
Staal also said the NHLPA is working on a vote for the full restart plan and possible CBA extension; there was supposed to be a vote last weekend but it was pushed back.
While the Canes know that anything could happen with the virus between now and late July/early August, they’re hopeful everything will work out and they’ll get to resume the season.
“I’m not really sure,” Staal said. “Anything could happen, even just between the business side, the money and how that all pans out, but obviously with the virus and how quickly it can spread, it could take out a whole team pretty quickly and you don’t really realize it. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. I think for the most part, they’ve done their due diligence on making sure that we find the best way for that not to happen, but we’ve obviously seen some crazy things with this virus and how quickly it can spread. Anything can happen, so we’ll see how it goes.”