Opinion

The Winnipeg Jets were counting on a big assist from both the federal government and National Hockey League. Instead, the club has been given the cold shoulder and shut out, learning the hard way that cross-border trades during a global pandemic aren't as simple as they'd hoped.

The Winnipeg Jets were counting on a big assist from both the federal government and National Hockey League. Instead, the club has been given the cold shoulder and shut out, learning the hard way that cross-border trades during a global pandemic aren't as simple as they'd hoped.

And that has them silently stewing, believing they are victims of an uneven playing field that has put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Patrik Laine was given a hero's welcome as he landed on a private charter in Columbus after obtaining his work visa last weekend, greeted by a huge Finnish billboard and spending just 48 hours in COVID-19 protocol before getting the green light to make his Blue Jackets debut earlier this week. Jack Roslovic didn't have to wait at all to jump into the lineup of his hometown team, with four games already under his belt.

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)</p><p>Pierre-Luc Dubois has had to undergo a two-week quarantine since arriving in Canada from Columbus in the trade for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.</p>

(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

Pierre-Luc Dubois has had to undergo a two-week quarantine since arriving in Canada from Columbus in the trade for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

And Pierre-Luc Dubois? He's only met his new teammates through Zoom and hasn't touched a sheet of ice in the 13 days since the blockbuster deal went down. The 22-year-old Quebec product remains under mandatory lockdown here in Winnipeg and isn't eligible to emerge from quarantine until Friday night.

That will delay his first game with the Jets until they return to action next Tuesday in Calgary, and only if Dubois can quickly get up to speed after such a prolonged stretch away from the rink. By then, Roslovic and Laine will have skated for six and three games respectively. Dubois, meanwhile, will have watched Winnipeg play at least seven times without him.

Is that right? From a pure hockey perspective, absolutely not. But you'll forgive the folks in Ottawa if the wants of the Winnipeg Jets aren't very high on their priority list right now. They have bigger fish to fry than worrying about the number of days a multi-millionaire athlete has to wait before he can continue to play a game for a living.

And I'll happily take our country's way of handling COVID-19 over the debacle we've seen south of the border. Just look at the fact 18 NHL games have already been postponed involving U.S. teams barely three weeks into the season. New Jersey currently has more than a dozen players in protocol, while Minnesota and Buffalo are also dealing with outbreaks. Dallas, Carolina, Vegas and Washington have also been hit hard.

Patrik Laine, rear, was cleared to play his first game for the Columbus Blue Jackets after spending just 48 hours in COVID-19 protocol. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)</p>

Patrik Laine, rear, was cleared to play his first game for the Columbus Blue Jackets after spending just 48 hours in COVID-19 protocol. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

The Canadian Division is the only one of the four yet to be impacted. Coincidence? Hardly.

No, the real culprit in the Dubois quarantine saga is the NHL. They should have seen this coming and done something to address it before the puck dropped in mid-January. Instead, league officials were apparently content to take a "let's cross that bridge when we get there" approach — and it ended up backfiring in a big way here in Winnipeg.

When the trade was finalized on Jan. 23, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff firmly believed Dubois would only have to self-isolate for seven days upon his arrival in the city later that night. That's based on the fact the NHL had negotiated an agreement with the federal government under "national interest grounds" for a modified one week of quarantine, with strict conditions, for the recently completed training camps for all seven teams.

Dozens of players had flown into Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa from outside of Canada and were allowed to go back-and-forth from their residences to the rink once they had passed four COVID-19 tests over a seven-day stretch. It saved them the "inconvenience" of coming in prior to Christmas.

... I'll happily take our country's way of handling COVID–19 over the debacle we've seen south of the border. Just look at the fact 18 NHL games have already been postponed involving U.S. teams barely three weeks into the season.

But for reasons that aren't clear, the NHL didn't get permission at the time for this exemption to carry over to the regular-season. The Jets, and the other six Canadian clubs, wrongly assumed it wouldn't be a problem and was but a mere formality.

After all, a player like Dubois was being tested every second day while playing in Columbus, and he flew on a private charter flight into Winnipeg. The chances of him bringing COVID-19 with him were slim. There was a lot more risk with all those players who flew in commercially from their off-season homes in late December for the start of training camps and only had to serve one week in isolation.

And yet, here we are. Even though Manitoba government and health officials signed off on the modified quarantine, that apparently wasn't enough to get it approved in Ottawa, at least not in time to apply to the Dubois case.

Which is where the NHL should have stepped in. One solution would have been ordering that players going from a Canadian to American team have to spend the same amount of time in isolation as those going the other way.

Jack Roslovic, left, has already played four games for the Columbus Blue Jackets since his trade from the Winnipeg Jets. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)</p>

Jack Roslovic, left, has already played four games for the Columbus Blue Jackets since his trade from the Winnipeg Jets. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Otherwise we have situation like this, where teams are able to play by different sets of rules based on how seriously, or not, officials in their country happen to treat COVID-19. There'd be outrage if one team was allowed to have a second goaltender on the ice, or have a roster that exceeded the salary cap. Why should this be any different?

The Blue Jackets got to quickly inject a couple high-end players into their lineup to replace what they lost. The Jets have been forced to continue to play short-handed. Other than having Laine for the season-opener, they've been without him (three-game injury, then trade), Roslovic (never signed a new contract, remained in Columbus) and their replacement for the other nine games and counting.

Although they're not very happy with this process behind-the-scenes, Winnipeg has managed to stay above water with a respectable 3-2-1 record since the deal heading into Thursday's homestand finale against the Flames. Columbus is 2-2-0 in the games with Roslovic, and 0-1-0 in the game with both Roslovic and Laine.

I truly believe this trade may end up being a long-term win for both teams by swapping talented skaters who were desperately seeking changes of scenery. But in a truncated season such as this, with a 56-game sprint to the finish line, the NHL wrongly allowed Columbus to get a head start while Winnipeg waits impatiently for the race to actually begin.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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