The Vancouver Canucks are going to have to make some big decisions and very soon. According to ESPN's Emily Kaplan, more than half the Canucks team have tested positive for COVID-19, including players and coaches dealing with a range of symptoms. By the official count from the NHL, at least 14 players have been put on the COVID protocol list, including Thatcher Demko, Braden Holtby and Adam Gaudette, but it’s likely the total number will increase.
The team has been in limbo since March 31, when a game against Calgary was postponed. As it stands now the Canucks' schedule is blacked out through April 6, but given the number of players out, the severity of the cases and league protocols for return it seems doubtful the team would be back any sooner than two weeks.
At this point you’re probably saying, "Well, why don’t the Canucks close up shop for the rest of the season and let those boys get to their tee times sooner?" Excellent question! This outbreak certainly makes a case for hanging up the skates: The (already COVID-shortened) regular season was scheduled to end May 8, but was extended to May 11 because of, that’s right, game postponements caused by COVID.
But don’t worry, the NHL is on it. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet the league has given “no consideration” to shortening the Canucks' schedule. There’s really nothing to worry about:
"Each situation we have dealt with has involved its own unique facts and circumstances," Daly wrote in an email. "So, there's never a one-size-fits-all solution. I wouldn't consider this situation to be any more worrisome or concerning than any other. The potential variant aspect and the timing within the season are just two potentially distinguishing facts from some other cases. Nothing more.”
It's true that the NHL, just like every other sports league that decided to operate during a pandemic, has had to deal with outbreaks. The Dallas Stars pushed the start of their season in January after an outbreak that saw 17 team members test positive for COVID. The main reason the NHL created the Labatt Blue Division this season was to keep teams safer (and deal with less border-crossing issues) by halting halt travel between the U.S. and Canada. And, yet, teams continued to deal with COVID cases, most recently the Canadiens postponed four games the last week of March.
It's unclear what's going to happen to the Canucks, who have been treading water in the middle of the North division and were already staring at the prospect of an adventurous climb to make the playoffs. Even if the Canucks came back by the middle of next week, their schedule would include the Oilers, Leafs and, oh yes, the dreaded Senators.
The reality though is that Vancouver may need to focus on its health for a bit. It's probably not a coincidence that the Canucks had an outbreak at the same time that the new, more easily transmissible variant of COVID is running wild through British Columbia. Still, the NHL says this is just another matter to be addressed. “We’ve had other teams with a very high incidence of positives related to a single collection of events," Daly told Postmedia. "Does the variant aspect make it different? To some extent, yes, but only because we haven’t had to deal with it yet. But that doesn’t make it ‘worse,’ per se — just different."