Canucks fans don’t need much to get riled up on a good day.
During a pandemic, while starved for any sort of hockey news, it takes even less.
Still, the Jake Virtanen controversy last week was an unusual one. Caught on camera enjoying the reopening of Celebrities Nightclub in downtown Vancouver, the 23-year-old wasn’t breaking any laws. He wasn’t even breaking any league or team rules, technically.
Virtanen never left the province, so he was never under any sort of quarantine. He hadn’t even been skating with teammates until more recently, and even that’s being done at a safe distance.
And yet, the optics didn’t look good, which is why the Canucks felt the need to address the situation with him.
Speaking with the media on Tuesday, Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev admitted that what his teammate did was a mistake.
“I think he knows he made a little bit of a mistake,” said Tanev, who is the team dad to many younger players on the Canucks. “But he’s tested now, I believe twice, and he’s tested negative. It’s obviously a tough situation when you’re not technically in quarantine and you’re allowed to go out and do what you want. You’ve got to keep everyone in mind that we’re trying to create a safe environment for everyone.
“Whether he’s at a club — you’re just as likely to get it at the grocery store — or doing things like that, it’s obviously tough and I think he knows that was obviously the wrong decision.
“I think him and guys seeing that now going forward will be smarter.”
The MLS’s attempt at establishing a safe environment has proven to be difficult, with many players testing positive after arriving in the bubble in Orlando in the last week. The NHL won’t want to repeat those mistakes, and it starts with keeping players healthy prior to the start of play.
Tanev described the safety protocols at Rogers Arena to be “all pretty standard and quite easy to follow,” with things like wearing masks, physical distancing, and washing your hands now a part of life for everyone.
His routine includes arriving at the arena by 6:45 am, before doing an hour workout, and a 60-75 minute on-ice session. Tanev is skating with his teammates that aren’t required to quarantine, but that changes on Monday when training camp kicks off.
Tanev, who stayed in Vancouver during the pandemic, is also able to enjoy freedom right now, which is something many of his teammates are not able to do at the moment. When they’re not at Rogers Arena, all players that returned to town from out of country are currently confined to their hotel rooms at the JW Marriott. They’ll need to do that for 14 days in total.
Elias Pettersson described it as “kind of boring,” while others like Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, JT Miller, and Jacob Markstrom are in the same situation.
“I think a few guys aren’t as happy as us that have the freedom to walk around and do things outside of the hotel room, that’s for sure,” Tanev said, who is glad he decided to stay in Vancouver with his fiancee.
“Our best decision that we made was to stay here instead of going back home in Ontario, where everything’s calmed down there now, but it took a lot longer than it did here,” said the 30-year-old Toronto native. “We’ve been able to enjoy ourselves, enjoy the outdoors of beautiful British Columbia, and go on hikes, walk the dog, and go to the park — and do things like that where we may not have done for weeks if we had gone back home to Toronto.”
As for how much longer Tanev will remain in beautiful BC, that will depend on his contract negotiations this summer/fall. A pending unrestricted free agent, the pandemic has likely altered his earning potential on the open market.
That’s not something he’s prepared to worry about yet though.
“I feel fine. I’m ready to play hockey. I’m going to get a contract regardless,” Tanev said. “I feel like I’m going to play well. If we play playoffs I’m confident in my abilities.”
On the subject of his defence partner Quinn Hughes, Tanev did hint that he’d like to remain a Canuck.
“I’d love to stay here and play with Quinn as long as I’m able to. We play great together when we did this year, and I think we both enjoyed it.”