TORONTO – When the Toronto Raptors landed in Tampa, Fla. on Monday evening, several players and staff members weren’t quite sure where they could go or what they were permitted to do.
Not only were they unfamiliar with the city – their home for training camp, which begins this week, and likely for the duration of the 2020-21 season – but they’ve got to navigate it amid a global pandemic.
Most of them were coming from their off-season homes across the United States, where COVID-19 protocols vary from state to state. Some crossed the border and flew down from Toronto – a city on lockdown, where only grocery stores and essential businesses remain open, where you can order takeout from your favourite restaurant or have food delivered but you can’t dine-in.
What they learned pretty quickly upon arrival is that restrictions in Florida – where positive cases continue to soar – are minimal.
Want to grab a bite to eat? Restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity. How about nightlife? Bars and clubs are also open, though “limited social distancing protocols” are “encouraged”, according to the city’s official website. Masks are recommended but not mandatory under the state’s Phase 3 guidelines, which have been in place since September 25. Not to worry, though, because “menus, if laminated, should be cleaned after each use.” That’s reassuring. Gyms are open, as are movie theatres.
“People keep asking me, ‘where are you staying? What’s going on? What’s around you?’ And I have no idea,” guard Norman Powell said via videoconference from the team hotel, where Toronto’s players and staff are staying until they get settled in the city and find temporary homes to rent, and located just down the street from Amalie Arena, where the Raptors will play their home games in downtown Tampa.
“[I’m] trying to figure the whole city out, where to go, even what to do in terms of just being able to walk on the beach. Especially the rules and laws here with COVID. You’re so used to what was happening in the bubble, you knew the rules there. Going back [home] to California [during the off-season], you knew the rules there and what was changed, what was open, where you could and can’t eat. Same when I lived in Vegas. Being in Vegas, there’s a little bit more freedom there, but certain things are locked down, things you can’t do. So it’s just picking up the environment that you’re in, and trying to make the best decisions possible.”
The NBA recently issued a 134-page manual detailing its health and safety standards for camp and the upcoming season, though teams didn’t receive it until this past weekend – just a couple days before the Raptors were set to fly south. Once again, protocols will be tight on the league’s watch – masks, frequent sanitization and social distancing, where possible, in arenas and practice facilities. Players and staff will be tested daily, like they were in the bubble.
However, that’s where similarities to the restart end. The NBA reported zero positive tests during a three-month span that saw them finish the regular season and complete the playoffs on the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando this past fall – a remarkable feat, given the circumstances.
In addition to the testing, safety measures on site, and the commitment and sacrifice of thousands involved, the league’s bubble experiment was successful because it was contained, thus minimizing the risk of exposure and outbreak.
What the NBA is hoping to pull off this season – what other leagues have already done, to mixed results – will be far more challenging. This season, all 30 teams will operate out of their home cities, with the lone exception of the Raptors, who couldn’t get the government clearance they needed to play in Canada and will be based in Tampa for the foreseeable future.
Teams will play games in their arenas – some will even host a limited number of fans – and travel around the United States. And while the league and its clubs can strictly enforce the protocols in their buildings, and even encourage their players and employees to follow those same rules after business hours, there’s only so much they can control.
On their own time, each individual will be free to come and go as they please. Ultimately, it will be up to them to make the right decisions – not only for themselves and for the health and safety of their teammates, but also for the sake of the league and for the season.
“There’s certainly more freedom than there was in the bubble, but we’re going to have to use very, very good judgement to keep this moving,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “The responsibility falls on each of us, individually, to make sure we’re following all the protocols. I hope that everybody has their own health and safety [interests] and the health and safety of their family first and foremost as kind of how they’re moving around their day.
“Obviously, [VP of player health and performance] Alex McKechnie and his staff will be giving continual reminders and all that kind of stuff too, but it does place maybe an extra layer of importance or priority that’s different than a normal season. We’re certainly not in a normal season or in normal times, so we’re all going to have to be very vigilant on this aspect.”
When it became clear that playing their home games in Toronto – their stated preference – was unlikely, the Raptors considered multiple contingency options stateside. With the backing of their players, several of whom were consulted in the process, they chose Tampa, in part because of the warm weather and no state income tax. But in doing so they’ve also chosen to work out of a known COVID-19 hotspot.
On Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Raptors landed in Tampa, Florida became the third U.S. state to surpass one million reported coronavirus cases, joining Texas and California.
For the Raptors and the rest of the NBA to pull this off and get through the planned 72-game schedule, and the playoffs to follow, it will take a buy-in from everybody. From the league’s best players all the way down to the trainers and equipment managers, everybody needs to stay disciplined and commit to following proper health and safety protocols – on, and more importantly, away from the basketball court. If the NBA can take anything away from the other leagues that have attempted something similar, it’s this.
The first few months of the Major League Baseball campaign were mired by multiple outbreaks. Several teams, including the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals were forced to close their facilities and cancel games. It wasn’t until commissioner Rob Manfred reinforced the protocol and threatened to shut down the season that teams, presumably, tightened up and cases started to go down.
It’s been inversed in the National Football League, where cases have skyrocketed as the season’s gone on, culminating in the Ravens-Steelers game – originally scheduled for last Thursday – getting pushed back three times and eventually landing on Wednesday afternoon after more than 14 Baltimore players tested positive throughout the week.
When everybody is doing their part – wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing and reporting their symptoms, among other preventative measures – then things can go relatively smoothly. But once that commitment slips, even from one or two people, then so do the results, as we’re seeing in the NFL.
All it takes is one player, coach or staff member to go for a meal in crowded restaurant or hang out with friends indoors without wearing a mask. All it takes is one person contracting the virus to put the rest of their team – as well as any other team they’ve played against or been in contact with – at risk.
There are going to be isolated cases – that’s unavoidable outside of a bubble setup. Of the 546 players tested during the initial return-to-market phase, 48 returned positive tests, per an NBA press release on Wednesday. Earlier this week the Warriors announced that they were delaying their first practice after two players tested positive.
The NBA’s health and safety guide covers the protocol for dealing with isolated cases, and what’s required for players who test positive to return to play. That won’t jeopardize the season, it states. What it doesn’t specify is how many cases, or outbreaks, would necessitate another league-wide shut down.
Ensuring that those cases remain manageable will depend on how fast they’re caught and treated, and whether they can be contained before they become outbreaks.
“As most people know, you’re not going to prevent people from contracting the virus with the testing but you are able to contain the spread,” said Toronto general manager Bobby Webster. “The daily testing is something that we’ll do every morning, which is similar to Orlando, but we are out interacting, we are in a major city with exposure risks. But I think that’s [something] we’re all learning to live with. How do you go get a coffee? How do you go to the grocery store? How do you do different things where you’re trying to have some sort of normalcy but reducing the risk for yourself and ultimately reducing the risk for the entire team?”
“During the season [there] might be a couple delayed games or whatever it is, it’s just the nature of the reality that we’re in right now,” said Powell. “But hopefully our team will stay true to [the league’s] protocols and regulations, hold each other accountable, stick to our routines and just get through this as fast and safely as possible.”
Canadiens @ Canucks Top Six Minutes: Toffoli’s hat trick earns a point – Habs Eyes on the Prize
For our new readers and members, the Top Six Minutes is a continuation of the discussion in the game thread. We try to keep it light and entertaining. Full recaps are up the morning after every game.
- I would love if the Habs won convincingly tonight, but I really fear that that won’t be the case.
- Are they really trying to call Weber and Chiarot the twin towers? Maybe don’t?
- Already on the penalty kill? Really? You couldn’t wait a minute?
- Elias Pettersson is now guaranteed to score.
- I’d be ok with a Suzuki short-handed goal. Make it happen, please.
- That was an extremely high high-stick. But also maybe don’t let them do that again.
- ….hold on… VAN was on the power play, but the only shots in the game belong to the Habs? Yes please.
- That was a fun shift from the Gallagher crew.
- Why do the hockey gods hate Artturi Lehkonen and Tyler Toffoli.
- Please don’t do this again.
- Apparently the Habs have decided that the NHL season is too easy so far, so they’ve decided to make it harder for themselves BY TAKING ENTIRELY TOO MANY PENALTIES.
- And that’s why you really shouldn’t have taken a penalty.
- Lol, whoops, skate malfunction.
- Pretty sure Price didn’t even blink making that save.
- Please go stay in the offensive zone for a while, Montreal.
- One of these days Toffoli will actually hit the net, and it will be glorious.
- Exactly no one is surprised that the probably-for-the-best crackdown on cross-checks in front of the net doesn’t apply to crosschecks on Brendan Gallagher.
- Too many odd-man rushes against. Way too many odd-man rushes against.
- Dang, Carey looks really good tonight.
- THERE IT IS. TOFFOLI WITH THE GOAL.
- Not to be that person, but SHOOOOOOOOT.
- Oh Jeff…
- Wait….is that…a power play!?? Oh my goodness, it is!
- Oh look. There are all the Toffoli goals! (Also, that Suzuki pass!!)
- Also… THE HABS CAN ACTUAL SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY!
- Oh geeze. Please go play on the other side of the rink.
- The things that are and aren’t penalties in this game are perplexing.
- Oh Paul.
- Montreal, please tidy things up. This is not gonna cut it.
- Another post.
- Shouldn’t that have been a Montreal penalty?
- WAIT, NOT *THAT* THOUGH. WTF.
- GALLY GOALS ARE THE BEST GOALS.
- It is known.
- The plays Nick Suzuki sets up are just delightful. Eventually his teammates will start getting used to it, and he’s going to rack up a tremendous amount of assists.
- Meanwhile, Habs, please go play in the offensive zone.
- AGAIN? sigh
- Habs. Habs stop this. At once.
- You know that thing I said earlier about crosschecks and Gallagher? It’s relevant again.
- Apparently pulling someone down by the face isn’t a penalty.
- That little kick to the stick, fake and shoot was just *chef’s kiss*.
- You know that thing where usually eventually the calls start swinging back the other way? How about some of that.
- Joel Armia is pretty good. Just saying.
- The Habs definitely look like they have more in the tank than Vancouver right now. That whole rolling four good lines thing is already paying off.
- How was that icing. Seriously.
- TOFFOLI TIMEEEEEEE.
- BRING ON THE (virtual) HATS!!!
- MONTREAL WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
- I just want to sleep.
- Gallagher was SO close. I’m going to cry.
- Well, time for aaaaaall the heart attacks.
- Suzuki in OT is pretty fun.
- However, just because it’s fun doesn’t mean I want to keep having this happen.
- Romanov is also very fun in OT.
- THAT WAS LESS FUN.
- Please not the shootout.
- I hate shootouts.
- I hate shootouts BUT NICK SUZUKI DOESN’T.
- They really are just gonna drag this shoot out as long as possible aren’t they.
- I still hate this.
- Habs lose 6-5 in the shootout.
EOTP 3 Stars
3. Gotta love a good rhyme
2. Those were the days
1. He certainly does!
Hazel Mae, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and more reported Michael Brantley to Toronto – Awful Announcing
Baseball transactions have often seen some unexpected people breaking news, whether that’s wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole or Brendon Kuhn and Joey Vendetta. But Wednesday provided a remarkable reversal there, with TV host Hazel Mae and multiple U.S. baseball insiders (including Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic and Jon Heyman of MLB Network) reporting that outfielder Michael Brantley was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays before the eventual confirmation that he was instead returning to the Houston Astros (where he played last year, as shown above). Here are those initial reports:
Michael Brantley in agreement on a 3 year deal with #BlueJays per source.
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) January 20, 2021
Source confirms: Free-agent Michael Brantley in agreement with Blue Jays on a three-year contract, pending physical. First: @thehazelmae.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 20, 2021
Jays agree to Michael Brantley deal @thehazelmae 1st
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 20, 2021
And here are some of the later corrections and rebuttals from those who didn’t initially report that:
There is not an agreement in place between outfielder Michael Brantley and the Toronto Blue Jays, according to a source. The Blue Jays are among the teams still in on Brantley, and a deal may eventually get done, but it is not finished.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 20, 2021
Blue Jays official refutes my earlier tweet on source re: 3 yr deal. “The team remains interested in Michael Brantley but there is no deal currently in place.”
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) January 20, 2021
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 20, 2021
There is no deal for Michael Brantley. The sides continue to talk. Sorry for jumping the gun. https://t.co/2SBHAXJmNE
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 20, 2021
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) January 20, 2021
As noted Tuesday, baseball is a sport where local sources can sometimes break national news before the national insiders get it. But in this case, the initial reports appear to have been premature. And that led to some awkward tweets Wednesday for those who reported that the Brantley deal was done in Toronto before the actual news of that deal being done in Houston emerged.
[Photo from Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports]
Canucks earn cathartic win over Canadiens after roller-coaster affair – Sportsnet.ca
VANCOUVER – It was a game screaming out for fans. And a game that would have had coaches screaming.
The Canucks’ home-opener at Rogers Arena, played in front of 18,000 seats kept empty by COVID, was a mistake-filled thrill ride whose surprise ending – a Vancouver win – was desperately needed by the team that had limped home after a 1-3 road trip to start its season.
Captain Bo Horvat scored twice on the power play, as the Canucks man-advantage unit finally put some pucks in the net after a 0-for-15 start, and then beat Montreal goalie Carey Price between the pads in the fourth round of the shootout.
Vancouver, wobbling on defence with veteran Alex Edler injured and other blue-liners struggling, appeared to be headed towards its fourth straight loss when former Canuck Tyler Toffoli – who else would it be? – completed his hat trick with a deflection to give the Canadiens their first lead with only 3:49 remaining in regulation time.
But after losing a one-goal advantage four times, the Canucks displayed some resilience by making it 5-5 just 32 seconds later when Brock Boeser wired a shot from the high slot after a setup by J.T. Miller.
“It was really important,” Horvat said of a victory that was like shelter during a January gale. “We needed that win. Obviously, for standings-wise, but also for confidence. It definitely feels good to get the two points, but at the same time I think we can be better.
“We can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve just got to keep building with that, keep our confidence and come ready to play tomorrow night.”
The Canadiens, now 2-0-2 and two points clear of the Canucks in the North Division, play in Vancouver on Thursday and again Saturday.
There were some glaring faults to the Canucks performance, especially in their half of the ice.
But it was vitally important for their struggling top players to break out. Boeser matched Horvat’s two goals, Miller had three assists and defenceman Quinn Hughes had two. And although Elias Pettersson failed to register a point for a fourth straight game – double his longest “slump” from last season – he was a key part of a power play that finished 3-for-6.
And, as Horvat said, there was a huge psychological lift for a team that for the first time under Green, appeared to be slipping backwards with its surprisingly poor start.
“It definitely feels good to get finally rewarded for it,” Horvat said of a power play that was fourth in the NHL last season and expects to be at least that good again. “It was just a matter of time before one went in. Thankfully, we got it off to a good start and we just kept building from there.
“Obviously, we can’t think that’s going to be good enough. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and do it again tomorrow night.”
The power play gave the Canucks their first of four leads, scoring at 11:07 of the first with quick passing that teed up Horvat in the slot, a play that would be repeated on Horvat’s other goal early in the third.
The power play and offensive outburst, plus some timely saves by Braden Holtby in overtime, were enough to overcome the Canucks’ defensive problems.
New first-pairing defenceman Nate Schmidt conceded last weekend in Calgary that the transition from playing in Vegas has been challenging, and Travis Hamonic hasn’t looked any more comfortable than Schmidt so far in Vancouver after spending the last three seasons with the Flames.
It didn’t help Wednesday that Edler nearly stopped playing in the second period before disappearing from the bench in the third, and that rookie Jalen Chatfield was making his NHL debut for the Canucks.
Even Hughes looked suspect medically, labouring at times while being constantly targeted by the Canadiens.
The lack of cohesiveness on defence was especially evident in the second period, when the Canucks blew the lead three times on goals that were far too easy for the Canadiens.
Hamonic wandered out of position to throw a hit after Hughes had been knocked over by Joel Armia, leaving the right half of the Vancouver zone open for Toffoli to walk in on a breakaway and pick his spot over Holtby’s catching hand to tie it 1-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.
A few shifts later, Schmidt gambled and lost on an intercept in the neutral zone, giving Jeff Petry a free pass to the net. But when the Canadiens defenceman zipped the puck wide, it caromed around the boards to Tyler Motte and gave the Canucks a two-on-one.
Motte looked to pass before fooling Price with a low shot through him to restore the Vancouver lead at 4:25.
But just 62 seconds later, with Schmidt and Hamonic now paired together, the Canadiens took advantage of more poor defending and Nick Suzuki set up Toffoli for a tap-in that capped a power-play three-on-one.
The Canucks power play made it 3-2 at 11:13 when Boeser collected a rebound from his skates and scored on a quick backhand.
And still Vancouver couldn’t get out of the period with the lead. With Chatfield looking to change and caught out of position and Schmidt’s check against behind him, Tomas Tatar lasered a goalmouth pass for Brendan Gallagher to tie it again, 3-3, at 18:25.
The Canucks were ahead, then tied and eventually behind before winning. Against the Montreal Canadiens. The crowd would have loved it, faults and all.
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