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'We're not ready to play': Canucks veteran says rushing back after COVID-19 outbreak is 'dangerous'

Chris Bumbaca, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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J.T. Miller was one of the few Vancouver Canucks to avoid being placed on the COVID-19 protocol list after a variant of the virus infected 25 members of the organization in late March. Seven players remain on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list.

On Friday, Vancouver is expected to return to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers to start a 19-game stretch over 31 days.

"I don't really feel ready at all, to be totally honest," Miller told reporters Wednesday.

"It's dangerous to a lot of our players," he added.

For all of the talk about prioritizing the health of players and their families, Miller said it's frustrating to see the NHL schedule the rest of the season in such a short time period.

"Brutally honest, we're going to need more time to come back from this to play hockey. Even for the guys who didn't get (the coronavirus), we're not ready to play."

Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (9) celebrates the Canucks victory against the Edmonton Oilers on March 13
Vancouver Canucks forward J.T. Miller (9) celebrates the Canucks victory against the Edmonton Oilers on March 13

The NHL's 56-game regular season was supposed to end May 11, but the North Division (the seven Canadian teams) will now end on May 16 to accommodate the Canucks. The playoffs for the other three divisions could start beforehand, the league has said.

The Canucks have not played since March 24.

Miller said he didn't want to speak for teammates who had been infected by the coronavirus, but he doesn't even expect his own hockey legs to be under him come Friday, especially with five games in seven days to start the grind.

"It's kind of crazy," Miller said. "I know everyone has a job to do but to expect our entire team to be ready to play in one practice and a pre-game skate is a little bit hard to comprehend."

One player told ESPN he is still experiencing long-haul effects of the virus, such as brain fog. Miller is a nine-year veteran who previously skated for the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.

"My lungs are screaming and definitely not in game shape at all right now," the 28-year-old said.

A message by USA TODAY Sports on Thursday morning to the NHLPA has not been returned. ESPN reported there was a video conference with the NHLPA on Wednesday night, and the players will be medically evaluated Thursday. All players must pass additional cardiac screening before returning to the ice.

When asked for comment by USA TODAY Sports if Miller's statements made the league reconsider the schedule and Canucks' return to play plan, the NHL pointed to deputy commissioner Bill Daly's comments he made via email to The Hockey News.

“By (Thursday), their ‘full team’ will be healthy and cleared,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Hockey News in an email. “So we don’t see any additional risks from a health/COVID standpoint. From a scheduling standpoint, their remaining schedule is challenging, but it’s certainly not unprecedented. Very similar compression to what a number of other teams have faced this year, and, quite frankly, what all teams face in Olympic years.

"But most importantly, the team wants to finish its season. We aren’t twisting arms here. Everything, including resumption date and various other critical aspects of their remaining schedule, were done entirely collaboratively and with club input and consent.”

Miller was asked about trying to make playoffs.

"I hope people don't take this the wrong way, and when I go on the ice, I really want to win. At the end of the day, there's nothing better.

"But this has nothing to do with hockey right now for our team. ... It's about the health and safety of our players and our players' families and their children. This isn't about making the playoffs."

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Canucks' JT Miller: 'Dangerous' to rush back after COVID-19 outbreak