After the worst COVID-19 outbreak the NHL has seen this season, the Canucks are still going to be expected to finish their 56-game season. The NHL had proposed a brutal 19 games in 31 days, primarily because of money: the league and the Canucks have sponsorship and broadcast commitments to meet.
“The team wants to finish its season,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to The Hockey News. “We aren’t twisting arms here.”
Minutes later, the Canucks’ J.T. Miller showed that to be flatly false. If “the team” is ready to finish the season, the players are another story.
“We’re not ready to play,” said Miller in a refreshingly frank media availability on Wednesday. “Forcing us to play 19 in 30 or 31 days...it's dangerous to a lot of our players."
Miller’s words — and the corresponding sentiment from the rest of the Canucks players — led to a Zoom call with the NHLPA Wednesday night to discuss the players’ concerns. The players may be healthy enough to leave the NHL’s COVID protocol list but that does not mean they’re ready to step onto the ice and play at a high level after just one practice and a game-day skate.
Evidently, the NHL heard the players and has postponed at least one game.
The Canucks were scheduled to return to game action on Friday against the Edmonton Oilers but the NHL has cancelled the game and will presumably reschedule it to be played at a later date.
What this means for the rest of the Canucks schedule remains to be seen. There’s no room in the schedule to fit in another game before May 16 — it would mean not just playing three games in three nights, but four games in four nights — so this will require a more significant change to the Canucks’ schedule.
Postponing just one game doesn’t do much for the players’ concerns either. Playing on Saturday will still mean playing after just two practices and one game day skate, a tough ask after not playing a game for three weeks, not to mention the many players who experienced COVID-19 symptoms and are not fully recovered yet.
The Canucks may still be asked to play 19 games in 31 days, just after a longer delay.
UPDATE: Reports indicate that the NHL will also postpone Saturday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, moving it to Sunday. The Canucks will still need to play on back-to-back nights, as they already have a game scheduled against the Leafs on Monday.
This may require further changes to the Canucks' schedule. They have another set of back-to-back games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, which would mean playing four games in five nights.
There is also no word yet on when Friday's postponed game against the Oilers will be played.