Though it may not be the smartest thing for the NHL to re-start the season, one thing is for certain - yesterday was an exciting day for fans around the league. Monday morning, the NHL moved into Phase 3 of their Return to Play (RTP) plan meaning that teams were allowed to begin full training camps.
That meant the Colorado Avalanche were all together at the Pepsi Center for the first time since the league was shut down in mid-March. Not only were the Avs back, they are healthy for the first time all year - and that’s something that should terrify the rest of the Western Conference.
Due to the expanded roster size, the Avalanche took to the ice in two groups, the first of which contained the top two lines as well as the team’s top-4 defenders:
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Val Nichushkin - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky
Vlad Kamenev - Tyson Jost - T.J. Tynan
Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Jacob MacDonald - Conor Timmins
This group also saw the team’s top two goalies Philipp Grubauer - who is likely to begin as the starter - and Pavel Francouz.
The second group was made up of the bottom-6 as well as Ian Cole, Nikita Zadorov and the black aces
Joonas Donskoi - JT Compher - Vlad Namestnikov
Matt Nieto - PE Bellemare - Matt Calvert
Sheldon Dries - Logan O’Connor - Shane Bowers
Nikita Zadorov - Ian Cole
Mark Barberio - Kevin Connauton
Bowen Byram - Anton Lindholm
For those hoping to see Bo Byram get into the lineup during the playoffs, this is a sign that he likely won’t be there. It’s only one practice but he is well down on the depth chart and will have to wow the coaches to move up - something he didn’t do on day one.
Coach Jared Bednar had months to think about the line combinations when everyone is healthy, so yesterday’s combinations weren’t an accident. That said, the head coach mentioned after practice that nothing is set in stone:
“We haven’t made a decision on our lineup or where guys will slot, where they’ll play,” Bednar said. “We’ll use the whole training camp, what we’ve seen through the course of this season, this training camp, our exhibition game and even the round-robin to make some decisions and see where we’re at come round one of the playoffs.”
Mikko Rantanen also spoke to the media Monday after practice and wanted it to be known that he is feeling healthy after multiple of injuries this season:
“It’s been a weird year. Two pretty major injuries and trying to get back. I was just going to come back before the season got paused, so kind of bad timing for that. But now I took time, the three, four months we had, just to get myself healthy, my shoulder. My shoulder feels good. Now everything’s feeling good.”
Around the NHL
As we get close to the NHL’s attempt to re-start the season on August 1st, the biggest concern is keeping players safe once they are quarantined within the host cities of Toronto and Edmonton. Testing is going to be the key to that.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officers for Alberta and Ontario respectively, spoke about their confidence that the NHL plans to do things the right way. That includes closely monitoring everyone in the “bubble”, testing regularly and working closely with the cities involved.
The plan is for the league to start with nearly 2,000 test per day in each hub city.
“So with respect to testing, part of why we’re going to where we’re going and having the hubs in places where there’s less COVID-19, it gives us better access to testing, which we’re getting from commercial sources and which we’re paying for, and we wanted to make sure that we’re not doing anything that takes away from the medical needs of a community, and we’re comfortable that that’s the case,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on a conference call on Saturday.
The start of Phase 3 definitely had its hiccups. After The Athletic reported that a number of Montreal Canadiens had been exposed to COVID-19 on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced yesterday that they would begin training camp without nine of their players.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be voluntarily sidelining nine players from their training camp roster due to potential secondary exposure to an individual who had contact with a person that has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. (1 of 3)— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) July 13, 2020
One player who was on the ice for the Penguins was Jake Guentzel, who has been out since December with an injury. The star winger’s return to health will be a huge boost to Pittsburgh’s top line.
In Toronto, the Maple Leafs organization made a statement as they opened up training camp as the players made a point to wear Black Lives Matter shirts during their off-ice workouts.
This came a week after their organizational cousins the Toronto Raptors entered the the NBA’s quarantine bubble with BLACK LIVES MATTER painted on the side of their team buses. Maple Leafs players including Morgan Rielly, Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman spoke about the team’s choice to support the BLM movement after practice Monday, while Head Coach Sheldon Keefe made it known that he and his team understand that there are far more important things than hockey right now:
“On a day when everyone wants to talk about hockey and everyone’s excited to get back to playing, it’s important to have that Black Lives Matter movement be prevalent, and we want to make sure that that’s not lost in all of this. It is a very important issue that we haven’t forgotten about. We want to be a big part of making positive change.”