The COVID-19 global pandemic has wreaked havoc on many around the world. In a time where some are fighting for their next meal, others are granted the opportunity to travel the country playing professional sports.
No, it may not seem fair, but those making millions of dollars playing ‘games’ do understand their extreme privilege. Part of that honour is respecting and following the strict laws set in place by federal and provincial governments, as well as the protocol adopted by the National Hockey League.
Adding to the countless changes surrounding the way the 2020-21 season has operated is the fact that players leaving their respective team’s bubbles are required to self isolate for seven days. Further still, players involved in cross-border trades must serve a full 14-day quarantine, if being the player entering Canada from the United States.
Despite attempting to find a work-around, this issue has been in play all season. There has not been a more glorifying example of the post-trade quarantine rule than that of the arrival of centreman Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets from Ohio’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
“You make a deal to make a deal and you live with the restrictions surrounding it,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said on Monday morning. “We’re in that type of environment that obviously, we know there are different protocols. It would be an easier transition if the rules do change, but I don’t know that that’s going to affect my decision on making a deal. It didn’t when we obviously knew that Pierre-Luc (Dubois) was going to have to quarantine, and moving forward, we won’t as well. Having said that, if I’m taking a player off of my roster to acquire a player, then I have to take that into consideration as well.”
Dubois, 22, arrived in Winnipeg on January 23, but only skate in his first game as a Jets forward on February 9. He played one more time after his 14-day hotel stint before suffering an injury and missing the next four games – something that most feel was a product of his lack of exercise/training during his quarantine.
“I think we’re really just scratching the surface with Pierre-Luc, and I think the three-week timeframe was difficult for him to deal with,” Cheveldayoff said of Dubois’ quarantine period. “But I really do like how things are coming together with the options Paul has. Like, right now watching Pierre-Luc with Nikolaj and Kyle, it’s exciting to think just the chemistry that’s being built there and how they’re going to continue to grow… So excited to have Pierre-Luc in our lineup and I think it’s just going to get better and better.”
Considering his team has played 14 of its 27 total games without either Dubios (12 total games) or Patrik Laine (one game) in the lineup and has an 8-5-1 record in those games is certainly a breath of fresh air.
“You know there’s a lot of growth that can still take place in your group, and I think that’s exciting for me,” Cheveldayoff added. “We played essentially a month without Patrik Laine or Pierre-Luc Dubois. You add up those number of games that were missed because of Patrik’s injury and then Pierre-Luc’s quarantine and subsequent injury, I think the team is still learning a lot about itself.”
Head coach Paul Maurice has seen a team come together both on and off the ice in unprecedented ways in a season unlike any other.
“I think they like each other,” the Jets’ bench boss said between laughs on Monday. “That’s the thread that’s going through our room right now. They hang together, the bench is connected, they support each other. When I watch them move around each other, in practice or at meals, it’s different groups of guys all the time. It’s not the same guys together. There is a nice connection in that room. That’s really important when you have a tough night like we had in Montreal to get back on the horse. It’s not a disjointed group. It’s a group of close-knit guys.”
That said, the Jets are now 8-0-1 following a regulation loss and are tied with Toronto for first in points percentage .667, while having three games in hand on their fellow North Division rivals.
“In games we’re down 2-1, there isn’t a panic on our bench. We know we have a bunch of guys that can score goals; there is a resilience to our team,” Maurice said of his crew. “I’ve felt that in games that we were not good, we knew it, and there haven’t been a whole lot. In periods of games we’ve struggled, they’ve been able to make an adjustment and get stronger, and we’ve come back and won a bunch of games, or won a bunch of games when we didn’t score the first goal or were trailing at a point in time. It’s not just we played harder, we played a little smarter, got a little more defined in our game, and we stayed patient throughout that game.”
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Despite the obviously needed additions come the April 12 trade deadline, neither Maurice nor Cheveldayoff will consider the mandatory quarantine period as a detriment if the overall outcome would benefit the team and its success moving forward.
“A month is a long time,” Maurice said of the upcoming deadline. “What your team is today, you’ll have players develop, you’ll find new things about players, because we play 17 games this month health alone will dictate a lot of what people are thinking going into that trade deadline. I’ll give my opinion. There will be a time and place for that somewhere over the next month, we’ll start talking about where our team is at. We’ll do the research that I’m asked to do on players that are available.”
After dealing away first round picks in back-to-back seasons in order to acquire Paul Stastny (2018) and Kevin Hayes (2019), Maurice and the rest of the Jets’ coaching staff do remain active in the scouting department, as a help to their GM.
“The challenge, aside from the idea of trying to get a guy across the border and what that would mean, is that if you’re pre-scouting,” he reflected. “We all know a guy, if you fire a guy’s name out we have a general idea, but you have to watch a lot of video on a guy before you can get a good handle on what he is. Even if you’re in the league, you still have to do that kind of work. There isn’t as much time to do that. We all have our ideas of where we could improve.”
But just as quickly as he brought up the conversation points surrounding players of interest, the Jets’ bench boss shut down the idea that he runs back and forth to the management team with trade requests and ideas, reminding media of his role on the team.
“There are names out there and you start kicking those names around,” he said. “We’re secondary, there is an entire pro scouting division – they’re working on this stuff all the time. We’re doing our jobs here. Kevin isn’t running down with every name that’s rumoured to be out there. It will get to a point where that it’s kind of confirmed that a name is out there, we might have interest, and we’ll dig in a little bit. We have a whole group of full-time professionals that will handle this before it ever gets to me. It’s not a big burden on the coaching staff. It’s not what we do for a living.”
Following Monday’s home contest against the Montreal Canadiens, Winnipeg will be halfway through its 2020-21 season. Currently sitting at 17-8-2 with 29 games left to be played, the team will look to maintain its strong start through the remainder of the playing calendar, with or without any late-season acquisitions. But should additional help soon arrive, this group will be well-accustomed to the processes involved – something that will certainly go a long way.