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David Staples: Fear of COVID knocks out Edmonton Oilers and cross-border games until after Christmas – Edmonton Journal

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This in from the National Hockey League: “The NHLPA and NHL have agreed to postpone cross-border games through Dec. 23.”

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The following Oilers games have been postponed: Dec. 20 vs. ANA, Dec. 22 @ LAK and Dec. 23 @ SJS.

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My take

1. I wrote about the COVID issue at length yesterday, so I’ll refer back now to what I said, essentially that it’s a time of fear and confusion right now due to the Omicron virus but if we find this virus is mild and does not threaten our healthcare system, it’s time to lift all our lockdown restrictions. We’re all double or triple vaxxed. We can still practice social distancing if we feel vulnerable. If Omicron has no more impact than the common cold, it’s time to start acting like a brave and healthy society, not a fearful and dysfunctional one. The mental, physical and economic hardship of lockdown is crippling but it’s been utterly overlooked and downplayed by the hardcore of the pro-lockdown crowd from day one — even sneered at by a short-sighted and all-too-comfortable minority. But it strikes me that the unrelenting fear, isolation and stagnation are now far more dangerous than the ever-dwindling risk of the virus. Again, it could be that Omicron changes that calculation, but if it does not I can no longer in good conscience support the locking down and masking of my children, my family, my city and my province. How about you? How do you see it?

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2. The NHL has about 90 players now on COVIC protocol. They’re all out for a substantial length of time, which has caused the cancellation of games and a watering down of existing games. It’s now brought on this pause in part of the schedule until after Christmas or longer (when has any kind of lockdown measure been as short as it’s first promised to be?). But the issue now isn’t the health impacts of COVID itself. Almost all of these players — or all of these players — are either asymptomatic or are experiencing mild symptoms. In other words, their youth, their excellent fitness and their fully vaccinated status are doing what we’d hope they would do: protecting them from any kind of serious outcome of COVID. In other years if these players were this healthy they’d almost certainly still be suiting up for games and no one would think anything of it. But because the fear of COVID is so strong in a large group of people, we’re still taking extremely restrictive and punitive action when young and healthy people get the disease. Is it not time for that to end, for the NHL to stop all testing of non-symptomatic players? I would suggest it is.

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3. You could argue that if they get sick, the players will threaten spread to others. This is a fair point. It’s not unreasonable. But I will offer a counter-argument, that at this point anyone in North America who wants to be fully vaccinated is fully vaccinated. They’re also able to get booster shots. In other words, they’re highly protected from COVID, perhaps as protected as they will ever be. And, after almost two years of this mess, folks are also versed in how to protect themselves from COVID, through physical distancing and isolation if they’re highly vulnerable or around someone who is, and through changes to diet and fitness regimes that can greatly lessen obesity, which also offers solid protection from the worst outcomes. The argument that it’s time to get on with our regular lives — save for some hideous and healthcare system-threatening impact from the Omicron variant — has never been stronger. Outside of an Omicron melt down, it’s now time to do what Sweden did from the start, and learn to live with the virus with minimal lockdown measures and a reliance on the vaccines, common sense and personal responsibility to get us through. How did this work out for Sweden? Poorly at first, as they had a high death rate, but since early June their death rate has been flat. As other jurisdictions have had third, fourth and fifth waves, Sweden so far has not.

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4. It’s too early to tell which direction the Omicron variant will take us. Some say it’s going to be the worst wave yet and crash our healthcare systems like never before, as this highly contagious variant both hammers the unvaccinated and also breaks through into the vaccinated population and produces enough outcomes to make a difference. But the early news out of South Africa, where the variant first took hold, is more hopeful than that, with leading physicians saying almost all cases have been asymptomatic or mild, with their healthcare system still on its feet, and with some even hoping that this variant will act as a form of inoculation, that if most of us get it we won’t get that sick but we’ll be protected from future more virulent variants of COVID. Of course, South Africa has a much younger and less obese population than Western nations, and it’s also had an exceedingly high level of previous COVID spread, which bolsters immunity greatly. We still don’t know how Omicron will impact our own society, one that is uniquely vulnerable to COVID because we’re older and less physically fit, on average, than other nations, and also because our highly-complex healthcare system, with its high levels of care and many rules of care, is vulnerable to being overwhelmed, with just 150 to 300 COVID patients in ICU able to sink our system in Alberta, a province of 4.4 million. Our healthcare workers are outstanding but they’re getting burnt out by a system that hasn’t been able to adapt rapidly to the threat of COVID — and anyone opposing all forms of lockdown can’t get around that fact.

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5. On a lighter note, I’m glad the Edmonton Oilers won their last two games before the break. It will put this fanbase in a better head space for Christmas, and making Oilers social media more bearable without the anti-Oilers management faction in full voice, crying out for heads to roll. I mean, such fans are perfectly entitled to their opinion, and it’s not crazy talk in any way to hold such a view, but I’m far more of a glass half-full type so I won’t miss the rancour. Plenty of times to get out the knives and pitchforks if the Oilers don’t succeed in the playoffs. For now, I’m pleased with the team’s record of 18 wins and 11 losses.

The NHL is broken into two groups right now, haves and have-nots, and the Oilers are finally one of the haves, most definitely.

6. I wonder what this all means for the World Junior tournament?

P.S. This article at first reported that the entire NHL was shutting down, a major misunderstanding and mistake on my part, as it’s just cross-border games on pause for now. My apologies to readers for this mistake.

Staples on politics

Are Albertans cool with an Omicron Christmas and a locked down New Year? I highly doubt it

At the Cult

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TRAIKOS: The NHL apparently wants McDavid and the Oilers to miss the playoffs – Toronto Sun

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Edmonton’s playoff hopes took a serious hit on Thursday, with the 13th-place team losing 6-0 to Florida. It was the Oilers’ seventh straight loss — and their 13th loss in the past 15 games — and it put them six points back of San Jose for the final Wild Card spot in the West.

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The team needs Evander Kane more than ever, as well as an upgrade in net and possibly a new voice behind the bench.

Based on what lies ahead, it could also use a ventilator.

On Wednesday, the league released its revised schedule for all the games that had been postponed due to COVID-19. Mostly, the NHL’s schedule makers just crammed a bunch of games (95 in total) during the three-week window that was originally blocked off for the Olympic break.

Now, there is no break. And for the Oilers, who play their final 46 games over 98 days — roughly a game every other day for the next three months — there’s little chance to take even the slightest of breaths.

Seriously, what did Connor McDavid ever do to Gary Bettman to get him so angry? Edmonton’s path to the post-season is not just an uphill climb — it’s now also littered with potholes, as well as several back-to-backs and a couple of insane stretches where they will play three games in four nights.

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Even if they manage to survive this gauntlet and sneak into the playoffs, what’s the point if they won’t have anything left in the tank?

Of course, it’s not just Edmonton that will be challenged in the weeks ahead.

Every team got a bunch of games dumped on their lap next month. Winnipeg now has 10 games in 17 days, while Montreal will play eight games in 15 days.

All it means is that February, which typically represented the dog days of the calendar might now be the most pivotal month on the schedule.

Depth is going to be tested like never before. You better have a backup goalie, because you’re going to need him. And you better have a fourth line that plays more than six minutes a night.

For Edmonton, this could be just a little problematic.

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The Oilers don’t have a backup goalie. These days, they don’t even have a No. 1 that they trust. As for spreading the minutes around, Oilers’ defenceman Darnell Nurse is averaging the second-most ice time of any player in the NHL, while Leon Draisaitl and McDavid are logging more minutes than any other forward.

With the team chasing the pack — and playing from behind in most games — there’s little chance that their ice time will be decreased. If anything, it’s probably going to be going up, especially if Dave Tippett is still coaching.

After all, the Oilers can’t afford to have another losing month. They can barely afford to have another losing week.

With so many games scheduled in so few days, the playoff picture is coming into focus faster than ever. By the end of the month, we should have a clear indication of where teams stand heading into the March 21 trade deadline.

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That is, if any teams are left standing by then.

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*****

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Record: 24-10-3, 51 points (3rd in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: From Jan. 31 to Feb. 27, Toronto plays 12 games in 29 days. But that is still less than the 14 games they played in the month of November.

What it means: The Leafs got off real easy. They now have two back-to-backs scheduled, but one is a home-and-home against Devils — meaning both teams will be at a disadvantage — and the other features the 10th-place Blue Jackets and the last-place Canadiens If anything, this could be Toronto’s chance to put points in the bank.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Record: 11-20-2, 24 points (9th in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 15

The result: The Senators’ schedule looks completely different. They now have 10 new games in February — including two that were originally scheduled for April and got moved up. Too bad fans won’t be allowed in the building for most of those games.

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What it means: Though Ottawa is probably not going to make the playoffs, there had been talk that the Senators would be playing games in May. That didn’t happen. But there are 16 games in April, at a time when the 31st overall team could be playing meaningless hockey.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Record: 8-25-6, 22 points (10th in Atlantic)

Games rescheduled: 12

The result: During a three-week span in February, Montreal will play eight games in 15 days. All but one of those games is at home, which might not be a good thing based on how the team has been playing.

What it means: Not a whole lot. It’s a pity the NHL even bothered to reschedule Montreal’s games. All it does is delay the inevitable.

CALGARY FLAMES

Record: 18-11-6, 42 points (5th in Pacific)

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Games rescheduled: 10

The result: The revised schedule includes three back-to-backs in February and increases the number of games they’ll play in the month from four to 11. But Calgary also gets seven straight games at home.

What it means: Compared to the teams they’re jockeying with for playoff positions, the Flames got off relatively easy. Their toughest stretch is a back-to-back against Vegas and Toronto. But they are book-ended with games against Arizona and the New York Islanders, which should allow Calgary to breathe while others might be running out of breath.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Record: 18-18-3, 39 points (6th in Pacific)

Games rescheduled: 7

The result: Vancouver will play six of the seven rescheduled games during what was supposed to be the Olympic break (Feb. 7 to 22). All but one of those games are at home. Consider it payback for what the league put the Canucks through a year ago.

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What it means: If you were hoping the Canucks had a shot at grabbing a wild card spot, you’re probably feeling optimistic right now. Sure, they still have to win those games. But considering that the team is 10-3-1 since Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench, would it surprise anyone if Vancouver ends up with the most points out of the Canadian teams out West?

EDMONTON OILERS

Record: 18-16-2, 38 points (7th in Pacific)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: Someone in the league office does not appear to be an Oilers fan. How else do you explain that Edmonton now comes out of the All-Star Game (in which Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both attending) and immediately plays eight games in 13 days? Or that the team twice plays three games in four nights?

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What it means: Kiss those playoffs goodbye! Seriously, this schedule is going to reveal what the Oilers are made of. This has already been a difficult season for McDavid and Draisaitl, who are feeling the pressure like never before. Now, they have to chase a playoff spot while running on fumes, with the team staring down a five-game road swing at the end of February against Tampa Bay, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia and Chicago.

WINNIPEG JETS

Record: 17-13-6, 40 points (5th in Central)

Games rescheduled: 9

The result: From Feb. 11 to Feb. 21, Winnipeg plays seven games in 11 days.

What it means: After playing six times in the past four weeks, the Jets are going to be busy in February. There are now 12 games scheduled, with 11 of them coming in the final three weeks of the month. The team will pretty much be playing every other night — or every night, considering there are three back-to-backs also scheduled. And because six of those games are against divisional rivals, this should be a make-or-break month for Winnipeg.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Trakos

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Bombers sign All-Star OT Bryant – TSN

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The two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers re-signed another cornerstone player on Friday, inking All-Star offensive tackle Stanley Bryant to a one-year contract. 

The 35-year-old was selected as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman for a third time in his career this season in addition to being named to his sixth All-Star team.

The Bombers also signed All-Star linebacker Adam Bighill as well as starting quarterback and Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros to extensions this week. 

Bryant had played in 103 consecutive games for the Bombers since arriving in Winnipeg in 2015 before that streak came to an end in November. 

The East Carolina product also won a Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders in 2014. 

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Soccer-Brazil to stop unvaccinated footballers playing in top leagues

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The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said on Friday players must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to take part in this year’s league championship,

The CBF said it was in constant contact with health bodies and had sent an updated list of requirements to member clubs.

“One of these is the obligation to present a full vaccination certificate against COVID-19 to the CBF’s Medical Commission,” it said in a statement.

The top four national divisions kick off in the second week of April.

Brazil coach Tite has said he was not selecting Atletico Madrid defender Renan Lodi for his squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers because he was not fully vaccinated.

The issue of athletes’ stance on vaccines has dominated sports headlines recently after tennis player Novak Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, was deported ahead of the Australian Open.

 

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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