The COVID-19 outbreak with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks has been one of the most significant in professional sports, with the team last playing on March 24, last supposed to play on March 31 (a game postponed 90 minutes before puck drop), and having 26 members of the franchise (including 22 players) test positive for the virus over the next couple of weeks. The league has been eager to have the Canucks return to play and complete this year’s 56-game regular season, even with them not currently in playoff position, but serious symptoms from many players, three players still remaining on the COVID-19 protocol list, and the limited amount of practice time available this week raised a lot of questions about the plan to have them start up regular-season play again against the Edmonton Oilers Friday.
In fact, forward J.T. Miller called that plan “dangerous to a lot of players” Wednesday. And that sparked a lot of discussion. And following that and conversations between the Canucks’ players, their management, the NHL and the NHLPA, Friday’s game against the Oilers was eventually called off by the league Thursday:
NHL Delays @Canucks’ Return to Play. https://t.co/nenmqW3eFm pic.twitter.com/3vbck3cCNq
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 15, 2021
And, while it hadn’t been officially confirmed as of late Thursday night, there are plenty of reports that the Canucks’ game Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs (which had been scheduled for the early 7 p.m. Eastern national Hockey Night In Canada slot on CBC and Sportsnet, but is no longer on the CBC schedule) will be moved to Sunday:
Saturday's Maple Leafs vs Canucks game has been postponed as well, now.
— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) April 15, 2021
League and PA in on-going discussions I’m told. Schedule obviously an issue so that’s why Saturday’s Canucks vs. Leafs game hasn’t been officially bumped yet, though it seems clear that will be the case.
— Patrick Johnston (@risingaction) April 15, 2021
in order for a Saturday 4pm vs Leafs on HNIC to get bumped tells you that #Canucks player concerns were heard loud and clear
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) April 15, 2021
Update: That rescheduling of the Saturday game to Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern was confirmed Friday in the NHL’s release on North Division changes.
It is good that the NHL is showing a little willingness to bend here, especially after those comments from Miller and the concerns of many Canucks’ players. This epidemic hit the team quite hard, with one player requiring an IV and many others experiencing other severe symptoms. However, there are questions about how the league will try to have them make up games after this.
With games Friday and Saturday, the Canucks were scheduled to play 19 games in 33 days (finishing on May 16), a schedule that drew a lot of concern from players and observers. If the timeframe isn’t expanded after this, 19 games in 33 days would have them finish on May 18. That would mark a further delay still for the NHL’s playoffs (initially scheduled to start May 11), and even if other divisions can get going before the 18th, there would still be league concerns there, so a further attempted compression of the schedule can’t be ruled out.
And even if the schedule isn’t compressed further, the idea of playing 19 games in 33 days was a big part of many of the complaints from Canucks’ players here. A much better health and safety solution would be not forcing the team to play out their schedule, but that seems unlikely to happen. Another option would be stretching out the remaining schedule to keep things safer for the Canucks’ players, but there also seems likely to be some league resistance to that, as that would cause them further playoff delays. We’ll see what happens; the move of at least Friday’s game is a good start, it’s far from the end of the story.
Update: As per that new schedule, the Canucks’ final game will now be Wednesday, May 19. So it’s now 19 games in 34 days.
[CBC; top photo from Bob Frid/USA Today Sports, from the postponed game on March 31]