The Vancouver Canucks currently have 19 players on the NHL’s COVID protocol list, all of whom have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. On top of that, three players on their taxi squad have tested positive, as well as three coaches and a member of the the team’s support staff.
Despite this outbreak — the largest COVID-19 outbreak of the any team in the league — the NHL is intent on the Canucks completing their 56-game schedule this season. On Saturday, the NHL announced the Canucks would return to action on Friday, April 16 and play all of their remaining games by May 16, pushing back the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the North Division.
As a result, the Canucks will be forced to play 19 games in 31 days.
The aggressive schedule includes six sets of back-to-back games, all of which will also involve playing three games in four nights, as the Canucks will never have more than a one-day break between games. Two of those back-to-backs will involve travel between the two games.
That’s a difficult schedule for any team, let alone a team coming off a COVID-19 outbreak, where several players suffered from serious symptoms. Many have been unable to exercise and none would have had access to the Canucks' training facilities for nearly two weeks, so conditioning is also a concern.
There is also worry about both short and long-term effects from COVID-19.
Players from other sports, such as the NBA, have reported needing a significant amount of time to get back up to full strength. Even young, elite athletes have reported getting winded and struggling with conditioning as much as six months later.
Other athletes have seen their season end due to COVID complications. Marco Rossi, a prospect for the Minnesota Wild, was supposed to play his rookie season this year and was even considered a darkhorse Calder Trophy candidate, but instead returned home to Austria after a bout with COVID-19 and has only resumed training this past week.
Different people experience COVID-19 in different ways, with some never developing symptoms and feeling completely fine, so it’s hard to say how the Canucks who tested positive will feel when the schedule resumes on Friday.
When previously asked if players could potentially opt out from the remainder of the season, NHL deputy commissioner said in an email to PITB that is “not anything that’s been discussed at this point.”
There is a provision in the NHL's return-to-play agreement for a player to opt out if a family member is at heightened risk.
The NHL’s COVID-19 protocol requires players to isolate for 10 days after a positive test if they remain asymptomatic. That means all of the Canucks currently on the COVID protocol list would potentially be eligible to return on April 16, except for Nate Schmidt, who would have only been in isolation for 9 days at that point.
Players who developed symptoms while in isolation, however, would need to isolate for 10 days from the start of their symptoms, which may hold some players out for longer. Those players would also need to have their symptoms clear up, go 24 hours without a fever, and be cleared to play by the team’s doctor and infectious disease experts.
If too many players are unable to return, the Canucks will have at least four players available from the taxi squad who did not test positive. They have also recalled goaltender Arturs Silovs and defenceman Guillaume Brisebois from loans to AHL teams within Canada. They have not recalled any players from the Utica Comets.
The Canucks could also see the return of Tanner Pearson from injury. There's still no word on when Elias Pettersson might return.
The new schedule involves 15 rescheduled games, including three that do not involve the Canucks.
Rogers Arena will re-open for practice on Sunday, April 11.