Ed Willes: Players air concerns over missing pieces in NHL’s return-to-play puzzle – The Province

In all the excitement over Gary Bettmans quasi-announcement about the NHLs return to play, there were a few questions that went unanswered.

By a few we mean more than 58 and less than 3,000.

There are little things: Will statistics from the proposed play-in and seeding games count toward the regular-season stats, triggering any number of bonuses in the process?

And big things: Canucks captain Bo Horvat and his wife Holly are expecting their first child in July. If the Canucks are playing at that point, will Horvat be allowed to leave the teams protective bubble?

There are in-between things: Will NHL teams be ready for a training camp in three weeks?

And things you never thought of: If a player tests positive for COVID-19, is that a hockey-related or non-hockey-related injury?

When you come right down to it, the only thing thats been decided to date is the playoff format if play resumes, which is just the first step in a long and complicated journey.

For the most part, hockey fans arent terribly interested in the many other details that have yet to be decided, but if you long for the days of labour unrest in the NHL, good news: Like the game, its about to return.

Im sure were going to have to have tons of PA (players association) calls in the coming weeks and months or however long this thing goes, said Horvat during a Zoom thingy. Right now weve figured out one thing (the playoff format). There are still a lot of other things to go.

We were afraid youd say that.

Canucks captain Bo Horvat says there are many issues to iron out before the NHL hits the ice again.Bob Frid / USA TODAY Sports

Horvat and teammate Brandon Sutter stepped up to discuss a changed hockey landscape on Thursday but most of the questions had little to do with the actual game. Instead, the line of inquiries tended to focus on the many and varied issues raised by the return plan announced by commissioner Bettman on Tuesday; a plan that the NHLPAs executive committee passed by a 29-2 vote late last week.

As mentioned, that just got the two sides to the starting line. In the upcoming weeks, the league and the union will dig into the return format and attempt to resolve the outstanding matters. This is when things will get interesting.

For the players, the main concern seems to be life in the bubble and the health-and-safety protocols that will be in place once play begins. Those concerns take on different forms for different players but there appears to be an overriding anxiety over the biodome concept and, considering everything in play, thats understandable.

Horvat and his wife, for example, are expecting but theyre not the only Canucks couple in a family way. Antoine Roussel and his wife Alexandra are expecting in June. Jordie Benn and his partner Jessica are expecting about the same time as the Horvats. Should the NHL be operational by then, you can guess what that means to the couples as they try to navigate through uncharted waters.

It hasnt been easy for (Holly) and I, Horvat said. But well deal with it when the time comes.

We havent made any decision or talked to anybody about that yet. Were seeing how this thing plays out. Hopefully Im going to be there for the birth of my first child. What that looks like, were just going day by day and week by week.

You hear that a lot from players, just as you hear a level of uneasiness. Sutter and his wife Giselle have two children. Right now living in the bubble means going from the hotel to the rink and back again every day for up to three months without contacting the outside world.

Thinking of being away from (family) for upwards of three months doesnt sound very appealing to many players, Sutter said.

John Tavares is one of those players. The Leafs captain and his wife Aryne have an eight-month-old son. Hes also on the Return to Play committee and earlier this week he expressed his thoughts on what might lie ahead.

When youre in that (bubble) for an extended period of time you obviously want to feel comfortable as a person, Tavares said. I think the mental side of it, to make sure were not in our hotel rooms and going to the rink, but theres going to be a real good structure in place that we can feel like ourselves and be ourselves.

I think thats important and a lot of those details, a lot of information, still has to evolve.

Tavares was actually criticized on social media for expressing that opinion.

This, we might add, is just one part of the whole return-to-play puzzle and its far from settled. So too are any number of technical issues and, while Bettman suggested the leagues dealing with the PA has been harmonious, PA chief Donald Fehr categorized things differently during a recent interview with ESPN.

When asked if the relationship between the league and the union has been collaborative, Fehr answered: Is that something Gary is spitting out?

Fehr continued: If the word collaborative is meant to imply that we sort of have to deal with these things which are thrust upon us and were trying to do it, then I would go along with that.

Funny, when you put it like that it doesnt sound very collaborative.

ewilles@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/willesonsports

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Ed Willes: Players air concerns over missing pieces in NHL's return-to-play puzzle - The Province

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