Canada's year to score the Stanley Cup? Former Leafs star Wendel Clark is hopeful
Toronto and Edmonton reported to be hub cities for NHL’s pandemic-era return this year
Former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark is expressing hope this could be Canada's year to win the Stanley Cup as reports swirl that Toronto and Edmonton will play host to the much-anticipated return of NHL hockey.
Sportsnet reported Wednesday that the two Canadian cities are expected to be announced as hubs where players will battle out the remainder of the season, with Edmonton hosting the Western Conference and Toronto hosting the Eastern Conference. TSN has also reported the NHL is expected to choose Edmonton and Toronto — barring any unforeseen circumstances. CBC has not independently confirmed these reports.
The NHL announced it was halting play on March 12, a day after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The move came after NBA cancelled its season when a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The idea of hosting the remainder of the 2019-20 season in hub cities is to reduce the risk of players contracting COVID-19 by reducing travel. Fans will not be allowed to watch the league's 24 teams play at the venues.
Clark spoke with As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue about what it might mean to resume the NHL season in Canada. Here is part of their conversation.
Why do you think Toronto and Edmonton ... might be chosen over other cities such as Las Vegas?
You don't have to worry about borders. Maybe because [the outbreak is] not quite as serious in Canada as it is going on down south right now.
And the league's run in American dollars. It's a lot cheaper to run it in Canada than it is to run it down south.
Let's talk about Toronto. You know the city so well. What makes it ideal to host this new format?
You're at the mecca of hockey. It's the centre of hockey everywhere, just because of the size of the city and being in Canada.
They have the amenities to be able to have hotels, rinks in a close-knit area. You can quarantine the teams and quarantine a lot of players and ... people per team.
And then, also, you know, the two big Canadian cities, especially Toronto, you can promote the game at its best.
Alberta's premier has certainly been making the case for Edmonton. What do you think of it being hosted there?
I think it's great. You got a lot of hype. You got one of the best players in the game playing there. They got great new facilities.
This is a whole new thing for everybody, not just the players. You got all the staff and stuff as well, so you have to have situations where they can safely handle everybody.
Of course, the NHL and the players' association still [have] to come to a final agreement on all the details. But if you were still playing, Wendel Clark, I mean, what would be going through your mind about considerations when it comes to returning to the ice?
I was always a player that knew we weren't playing for a long time, you know. You might be a player that's got a short career and you play four years. The average career might be 10 to 15 years. So to have one year that you miss, that gets lessened.
So if you [gave] me a chance to play and be around the guys on our team and play for the Stanley Cup, I'd always be saying, "Let's play hockey."
But what about safety? I mean, we've seen cases of COVID-19 at baseball training camps. The NHL has said 15 players have tested positive at the team facilities so far. I mean, wouldn't that be a concern for you?
[Editor's note: The NHL said it is aware of 11 additional players who have tested positive for the virus outside of its training facilities since June 8.]
Everything we do in life has risks to it. There isn't going to be any more risk, I don't think, [with] what the players are doing. They're going to have the best doctors available. They'll be getting tested more times in one week than I'll get tested ever. There's going to [be] more precautions to look after the players than anywhere else.
So if you were going to get it, you'd get it on your own.
There may be residents in those cities of Toronto and Edmonton, though, who point out that, you know, this is a large group of people. I mean, you said yourself, I mean, there's trainers and coaches and support staff.
And then they're all quarantined together. They're not out in the people.
What about the players? I mean, they'll certainly be coming into contact with each other.
The players are, but they're all quarantined and tested.
If somebody was to get it, then they're isolated.
They're missing what they love to do: hanging out at the rink, hanging in the dressing room, playing hockey, the game they love. And you only get to do it so long.- Wendel Clark, former Leafs captain
They'll be playing to empty stands. How different is that going to be for players?
I think there'll be an adjustment there the first few games. But as the intensity goes and the more games they play and they understand what they're playing for, they'll have enough intensity on it.
That'll just be a new norm in the sport that they're playing.
You mentioned that it's tough for young players to be away from their teammates, to miss that camaraderie. What do you think it's going to be like on the ice when the teams finally come together for the hockey training camps that they're set to resume July 10th?
They've been separated since March. And they're missing what they love to do: hanging out at the rink, hanging in the dressing room, playing hockey, the game they love. And you only get to do it so long. It's not a sport that you get to do forever at the highest level.
So I think once they get back in the swing of things and you get groups of guys together playing the game ... it'll fall right into being fun times.
What about you? What do you miss most about not playing or ... not being able to watch hockey during the pandemic?
I'm ready to watch hockey that I don't know the outcome [of]. We always miss what we love playing.
We went through different player lockouts and stuff. And, you know, I had three teammates, I think, [during] my first lockout that we went through that never finished. They never came back.
And they'll tell you they wish they hadn't [gone] through the lockout because they can't make up that year again. So that's why, in the big picture, I think if they can play and do it as safe as they can, everybody'll love to do it.
I saw one wisecracker on Twitter comment that this may be the best way for Toronto to see a Stanley Cup win in the city. Do you think that's a fair comment?
Well, hey, we might as well try it. We haven't done well in the last three years [that] we lost the first round in April, so maybe August is our month.
August, September, I'll take it! Doesn't matter to me as long as we could have a chance to win.
Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Morgan Passi. Edited for length and clarity.