What the Vancouver Canucks are going to be asked to do over the next month is quite frankly unsafe for everybody involved.
That being said, it was more than expected that the players wouldn’t voice their concerns, following the unwritten rules of how hockey players are supposed to interact with the media.
That was, until J.T. Miller hopped on a Zoom call this afternoon.
Miller began the call with a bang, saying he “doesn’t feel ready at all” for the Canucks’ return to play on Friday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
“I’m trying to use a couple of skates here to get my hockey senses back. The lights aren’t going to be there immediately, obviously,” said Miller. “I can’t really speak on behalf of my teammates that have had COVID, so, it’s gonna be tough for them to bounce back quickly and try to play there’s helping everybody stay as healthy as they can here.”
Miller was fortunate enough not to end up on the COVID-19 protocol list, but was still forced to be off the ice and in quarantine for the past couple of weeks.
Players such as Quinn Hughes and Brandon Sutter, however, have not been as fortunate. Sutter has reportedly had “dreadful” symptoms and Hughes needed to receive IV treatment, which caused him to lose weight. Miller says he’s most worried about what his teammates such as Hughes and Sutter are being asked to put themselves through.
“That’s all I worry about and it’s kind of frustrating if I’m being 100 percent honest with you. We’ve tried to talk about how the number one priority is the players’ health and their families’ safety, and it’s almost impossible to achieve that with what they’ve asked us to do in our return,” said Miller. “I can’t speak on behalf of the guys that have had COVID but I talked with my teammates a lot, and this hasn’t been easy.”
“Then to try to come back and play, it’s going to be very challenging and not very safe if you’re asking me, and I’m sure there are other people that would agree with that. All I can do is control myself at this point, and if we are planning on playing Friday I’m trying to play a good game for my team so I guess I could focus on that.”
Miller has skated a few times this week with a small group of players who were removed from the protocol list, but doesn’t feel ready to jump into an NHL game just yet. So now imagine how his teammates who weren’t able to get skating sessions in will feel heading into Friday night’s tilt.
“One practice isn’t even close to near enough time to come back and perform at a high level. It’s not even about being able to perform, it’s nothing to do with hockey at this point. To be brutally honest, I think that we’re gonna need more time than this to come back and play hockey. Even the guys that didn’t get it, we’re not ready to play.”
It’s simply insane to ask the players to play this kind of schedule after just one practice when most have not only played in three weeks, but also been unable to get on the ice or even work out.
“I cannot imagine guys that have had it and guys that are struggling to breathe getting up and down the steps to try to come back and perform so that’s the only part that I go back to and I just, I’m just more worried about our team’s safety — of our players and their families — and that’s our number my number one priority and thought that goes through my head on a day to day basis,” added Miller.
As expected, Miller isn’t too concerned about making the playoffs.
There’s a human element to all of this. Miller called his teammates “his hockey family” today, and as anyone would be about a family member, he’s most concerned about their health above everything else.
“Forcing us to play 19 in 31 days, and think about the playoffs when guys are still recovering from this and are expected to be ready to play, it’s frustrating and I just want to make sure everybody’s priorities are in the right place, because making the playoffs right now is definitely — in my mind for me — I haven’t thought about going to the playoffs. And that’s not because I don’t think we couldn’t do it with our team. If we hadn’t gone through that, that’s a completely different conversation. That was still our goal going into all this, and after that break, I think we felt like we were kind of hitting our stride as a team and could have made it very interesting coming down the stretch so this doesn’t have to do with me not wanting to play or not believing in our team.”
“This is a very extreme scenario and it’s a danger to a lot of our players so I want to make sure that our priorities are in the right spot.”