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Jim Rutherford on postponed Canucks games: “I think this is the right decision.”

The NHL postponed both of the Canucks' weekend games against the Maple Leafs and Coyotes.
Rutherford on zoom
Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford speaks to the media via Zoom.

It’s been a tough first week for new Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. Instead of being able to celebrate the team’s success on the ice — a six-game winning streak under new head coach Bruce Boudreau — Rutherford has had to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak.

On Saturday, the NHL postponed the Canucks’ weekend games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes.  

Despite the difficult circumstances, Rutherford struck a calm and considered tone when he spoke to the media via Zoom on Saturday afternoon. He was quick to note that the postponed games affected far more than just himself and his players.

“I know that a lot of people came from out of town for this game, I feel bad for those fans that made those arrangements,” said Rutherford. “From a team point of view, this was gonna be a really good test for us. Every game is a test but the Maple Leafs are one of the top teams in the league and we would have got a good look at how our team responded against them. 

“So, we're disappointed but safety comes first — the safety of the players, the safety of the fans — and I think this is the right decision.”

“The players really weren’t comfortable with going and getting stuck there.”

As of now, there hasn’t been any discussion regarding the Canucks’ games next week, according to Rutherford. The next scheduled game for the Canucks is against the San Jose Sharks in San Jose. If a player gets a positive test in the U.S., they may be required to quarantine there and subsequently not be home for Christmas with their family.

That was a cause for concern when the Canucks travelled to San Jose this past week, where they didn’t have any positive test results while in the U.S.

“We feel very fortunate. The players really weren’t comfortable with going and getting stuck there,” said Rutherford. “I’m sure that’ll be part of the decision for this game going to San Jose, especially at this time of the year.”

“Their symptoms are very mild.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs also had several players enter COVID protocol this week, heightening the need to postpone their games. According to the Leafs, the players in protocol are largely asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. The same is true of the Canucks.

“I've talked to our players that are in protocol, talked directly to them, and they're all telling me the same thing as what you've heard from the Maple Leafs, that their symptoms are very mild,” said Rutherford.

There have been calls from some corners for the NHL to relax their COVID-19 testing. The NFL announced on Saturday that they will no longer test fully vaccinated players and staff that do not display symptoms and will instead do targeted testing solely of symptomatic individuals. 

When asked if he would support a similarly relaxed protocol, Rutherford spoke with candour, admitting his own gaps in knowledge.

“We’re living in a new world — a  new strain that changes all the time with different variants and I don’t understand it enough,” said Rutherford. “I try to follow the doctors and the so-called experts that we watch on TV and some of them are getting it right, some of them aren't. So, I don't know. 

“I mean, I'm certainly open to it. I would like to see us play a full season and figure out a way to do that. But for me, safety comes first and if we can do it the way the NFL is doing it and everybody feels comfortable that it's a safe way of doing it, then yeah, I'm all for it.”

Rutherford confirmed that the COVID-19 outbreak has thus far been limited to the six players and one coach in the NHL’s COVID protocol, with no other staff testing positive. Given the incubation time of the virus, the Canucks could still see more cases in the coming days.

“With these spreads, there's usually one or two guys a day, it seems that's the way it's going now,” said Rutherford. “We'll keep our fingers crossed and hope there's not any more but we'll update you when we get the tests back.”

“I like Derek [Clancey] a lot.”

Rutherford also spoke about the Canucks’ hiring of new assistant general manager Derek Clancey.

“He was in Pittsburgh before I got there. He was with the team when they won the Cup in '09, so he is a three-time Stanley Cup winner,” said Rutherford. “I like Derek a lot. He's a good hockey guy. He can evaluate talent and I relied on him heavily in Pittsburgh.”

Amidst all of the complications of the COVID-19 situation, Rutherford has continued his search for repopulating the Canucks’ hockey operations.

“I've been making a lot of calls — calls to get permission to talk to people that are under contract in another organization, calls to people that aren't under contract, another potential assistant general manager, and then try to narrow my list on general managers so at some point in time in January start to meet with them in person,” said Rutherford.

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