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Photo Credit: Dave Sandford/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports

Oilers Fans Should Prepare to be Vaccinated

A source confirmed to me the Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG) will likely announce that fans attending games this season will need to be fully vaccinated. The OEG has been working on a strategy of how it will implement proof of vaccination and once that is established, expect the announcement.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and other NHL teams have already made similar announcements and I expect more teams to follow suit in the coming weeks. This morning the Toronto Blue Jays announced fans need to be fully vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test result 48 hour prior to game time. The NHL lost billions of dollars not having fans in the stands last season, and I understand why teams would look at implementing these regulations. We’ve seen other businesses do the same and as COVID cases are on the rise again, it makes sense why teams want to lower the risk of spread when they have indoor gatherings of 18,000+ fans along with staff and players.

The challenge for the OEG, and other teams, will be how to accurately and conveniently enforce proof of vaccination. I’m told the OEG has spent the past few weeks finalizing its plan so fans will have a clear understanding of what they will need to produce upon arrival at the arena. Fans under 12 years of age will be exempt since they are ineligible for a vaccine at this time, however, they would need to be accompanied by an adult who is vaccinated.

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The OEG won’t force fans to be vaccinated. The other option for fans, I’m told, is they will need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result from a healthcare provider taken within 48-72 hours of the game’s scheduled start time. Season ticket holders will either be vaccinated or choose to go get tested two days prior to every game they plan to attend. The choice is up to the ticket holder.

Currently, the OEG is sorting through the logistics to enforce these regulations. Its goal is to have it all finalized and then announce the changes. Will season tickets holders have to show proof every game, or just online? What is easier for them and the organization? Is that plausible, considering many season ticket holders transfer tickets to family, friends, clients or others? Right now the major challenge is that Alberta doesn’t have a vaccine passport. Alberta does have the online MyHealth page, where any individual can see their vaccination records and history. And many who have been fully vaccinated did receive a piece of paper, but is it feasible to think most kept it? Can you get another copy? There are lots of logistical questions that need answering and currently OEG is sorting through that in hopes of coming up with a fluid and convenient system.

With so many other teams and leagues adopting these changes, it isn’t a surprise the OEG will do the same. It makes sense in hopes of lowering the chance of spread among fans attending games. That is vital right now.

NEWS AND NOTES…

— Last week Dave Tippett joined me and Frank Seravalli on our podcast and he was excellent. He is an avid golfer, so much so he asked the doctor to put a bend in the plate during surgery on his finger, so it would help him grip his club. He also was a stellar soccer player growing up. You can watch/listen the full interview here. We focused a lot on coaching, and how it has evolved since he first starting coaching in the NHL 22 years ago, and of course the current state of the Oilers. One comment that grabbed my attention was Tippett’s thoughts on Evan Bouchard. He is really high on him and expects him to make an impact this season.

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I wrote a few weeks ago that I won’t be surprised if Bouchard is eventually skating with Darnell Nurse this season. He won’t start there, Tyson Barrie will, but I expect Bouchard to slide into that spot during the season. However, Tippett surprised me a bit when he said Bouchard is going to be killing penalties this season. Ethan Bear is an excellent penalty killer. He reads the play very well, and I think that is where he will be missed the most. I feel Bouchard can match, and surpass, Bear’s offensive game and outlet passing. I think he will fill that void at 5×5, but matching Bear’s PK prowess will be the biggest challenge for the young Bouchard.

Tippett is planning to use Bouchard on the PK, and after the interview it makes sense. Top all-around D-men kill penalties. Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse did early in their careers as well. When Klefbom was recalled for 17 games late in the 2013/2014 season he didn’t PK much. He averaged 30 seconds a game, however, the following season he was third among D-men at 1:45/game on the PK, and between 2015-2020 Klefbom averaged 2:02/game on the PK. Only Kris Russell played more at 2:08.

Nurse was on the PK almost immediately. He played two games late in 2014/2015 and averaged 23 seconds/game, but the following year in 69 games he logged 2:03/game. Bear was in a similar spot when he averaged :12/game in his 18 games in 2018, but then in 2020 he logged 1:52/game in his 71 games, and was at 1:48/game last season.

Bouchard has played 21 games and was used sparingly on the PK, but expect those minutes to increase this season, and his size and length along with his hockey sense should allow him to be good positionally. Learning when to engage in front of the net, when to attack a puck carrier in the corner or low slot and when to stay back will be the biggest learning curve for him. It will be interesting to see how he performs on the PK, but previous history says he should be able to handle it.

— Even when Kailer Yamamoto and Cooper Marody are signed the Oilers will only have 43 players under contract. I could see them bringing a right-shot veteran D-man to camp on a PTO. They don’t have much RD depth so bringing a vet on a PTO makes sense to me. Current right-shot UFAS include Sami Vatanen, Jason Demers, Erik Gudbranson, Paul Ladue, Nate Prosser, Michael Stone or Cody Goloubef.

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