Tyler Seguin drove to Brampton to visit his mother on Wednesday night. The Dallas Stars centre, who grew up in Southern Ontario, rummaged around in the garage and unearthed four hockey sticks while he was there.
“As it is right now, you have to use whatever you’ve got,” Seguin said Thursday as he sat at his stall in the visitors’ locker room at Scotiabank Arena before the Stars met the Maple Leafs. Two Bauer sticks, last year’s model, were propped up beside him.
He has 10 new sticks remaining from a batch of about three dozen that he ordered earlier this year to go along with three holdovers from last season and the four he found scavenger-hunting at his mom’s.
“I’m concerned about a shortage,” Seguin said, adding that he goes through one stick each game. “I might be screwed for a little bit.”
Seguin is worried because the inventory of sticks used at hockey’s most elite levels is drying up. The NHL players’ sticks, all custom-designed, cost at least $300 each and are not available at retail stores. The factories in China that produce them for Bauer and CCM, the two biggest manufacturers, have been shut down for three weeks as a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Nearly 1,400 deaths in China have been attributed to the flu-like illness since it emerged in the central part of the country in December. Health officials confirmed 242 deaths on Thursday alone. That is twice as many as the previous day.
Ed Kinnaly, the chief executive of Bauer, said the company hopes to resume production on Feb. 17. It had expected to restart operations on Feb. 10, but the government extended mandated work stoppages for another week.
“We are in regular communication with our team members in China to help ensure their well-being and understand their need to follow safety guidelines to help minimize this public-health issue,” Kinnaly said in a statement. “Understanding this is a very fluid and dynamic global situation, we are in close contact with our suppliers and other partners to stay on top of any changes that may occur.” Kinnaly said a majority of sticks for the retail market are shipped in the summer so that should not be affected. Bauer manufactures and ships the high-performance sticks to NHL players throughout the season, however, and that has been interrupted.
A backup supply exists, and sales representatives are checking with team-equipment managers to determine their inventory levels and identify any players that are running low.
“This is unique in a few ways,” said Tory Mazzola, a spokesman for the New Hampshire-based company. “The situation is widespread and at a point in the season where the playoffs are on people’s minds. If it happened in summer, nobody would worry.”
If Bauer’s factory reopens on Feb. 17, sticks could be shipped from the factory within two days. It takes approximately two weeks for them to land in a player’s hands.
Between them, Bauer and Montreal-based CCM furnish about three-quarters of the sticks used by players in the NHL. CCM did not respond to multiple telephone messages and queries directed by e-mail.
The next largest market share is held by Warrior Hockey, which is owned by Massachusetts-based New Balance. Warrior uses carbon-fibre material from the United States and manufactures its sticks in Tijuana, Mexico, so its output has not been affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
“We are ready and committed to help the NHL and its players meet hockey-stick demand if the need arises,” the company said in a statement. It currently has 300 employees working to make sticks six days a week.
If Bauer and CCM are unable to keep up with the demand, it is possible that some players could switch to Warrior.
Frédérik Gauthier, a Maple Leafs winger, said Thursday that a Bauer sales representative gave a briefing to him and some of his teammates recently.
“He told me to be mindful of how many sticks you use,” Gauthier said.
He said he usually orders a dozen sticks at a time and is not overly concerned yet.
“I’m good,” he said. “I still have a bunch.”
Jason Spezza uses a Bauer/Easton stick, and orders two to three dozen at once several times a season.
“I’ve gone through a lot of breakage lately so I am using a lot more than usual,” Toronto’s veteran centre said.
He said he would resort to using some of his old sticks if necessary.
“As long as this doesn’t last three or four months, I should be fine,” he said.
Like Seguin, Tyson Barrie, the Maple Leafs defenceman, expressed some concern. He uses a model manufactured by CCM.
“I’m not sure where my stock is right now,” Barrie said.
He uses a new stick in each game, so he did some math as he stood at his dressing stall Thursday.
“We have 25 games left, so that’s 25 sticks,” he said. “I better look into this.”
Not far from him, Travis Dermott stood smiling.
“I’m not worried,” he said.
He is a Warrior guy.