The news out of Vancouver isn’t getting any better.
Twenty-one players is essentially the whole roster, minus a couple taxi squad players. It should be clear, though the NHL can’t seem to see it, that this can’t be treated like it was just an unusual rash of injuries. Reports that players’ families have been infected have been making the rounds, which is truly frightening for everyone, especially the players themselves.
Quite simply, there is no way the Canucks can continue their season.
On simply a schedule level — which matters the least but we’ll take it first before, y’know, the whole long-term health thing — the Canucks have already missed six games. By any logic, it’ll be at least 10 days before they can even ice a roster. It might even be 10 days before they can even practice again. That’ll be at least nine games Vancouver has missed, and at least three weeks since they’ve even skated. That’s just as likely to get up to 10 or 12 games and near a whole month of inactivity, necessitating at least a few days of practice to get up to anywhere near NHL speed. And that’s a stretch.
That would leave the Canucks needing to play 19 games in the 22 days that the NHL has allotted for the rest of the schedule, which obviously isn’t possible. The league has the option of extending out the regular season to fit in more postponed games, and could end one division’s regular season after the other three begin their playoffs. That would only be a mess when we get to the NHL semifinals, as you could have a team sitting around for a while waiting for the North Division to catch up. But scoop-and-toss is a favorite method of a lot of organizations to deal with today’s problems.
But that’s before you even consider what the competitiveness level of the Canucks could even be. Just the time off itself would be a hindrance for Vancouver to compete with their opponents, especially as they would almost certainly be given limited practice time before being tossed back into the schedule, and an onerous schedule at that.
Add to that the aftermath of having COVID, and that’s the heaviest concern, which the NHL doesn’t seem to want to consider. A few Canucks, maybe more, have reportedly been awfully sick, not just carrying the virus or having limited symptoms. We know that the lingering effects of COVID-19 can be truly hampering, and several athletes have talked about it. They’re just the ones dotted throughout teams. We haven’t seen a group of players on one team fighting through this together. And that’s with the strains we knew more about. The Canucks are dealing with the far more contagious, and possibly more virulent, Brazilian strain that showed up in British Columbia. Simply no one can say what the long term effects will be. So the most cautious approach to see what they would be would be, is to give the Canucks five months before next training camp to observe.
Of course, the NHL is taking the fingers-in-the-ears, “Nobody’s hearin’ nothin’!” approach. In an email to Sportsnet, this is what Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had to say on Friday:
Each situation we have dealt with has involved its own unique facts and circumstances. 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.
He’s right that this is a unique situation, but it is more concerning and worrisome than any other. While the Stars had an outbreak involving 17 players and staff testing positive during training camp, delaying the start to the season, there weren’t reports that players’ families were also coming down with it. And that wasn’t the P.I. variant. The NHL doesn’t have answers on this one, and it shouldn’t act like it will come up with them in time.
Yes, there will be the small headache that teams in the North Division have played the Canucks various amounts of times. They’ve played the Canadiens nine times, but the Senators and Leafs just five, for instance. But the league is staring down the barrel of using points-percentage in the North anyway, with the Canucks almost certainly unable to finish 56 games. (Unless the league is planning to drag the regular season to Memorial Day.) The points-percentage solution is simple. Throwing out all results against the Canucks for standings purposes would also work, though kind of tricky as they were going to play some teams 10 times and others nine. That’s less likely.
The good thing is that neither of those put the Canucks players and their families (that almost warrants an exclamation point, doesn’t it?) in more danger than they already are. That has to be the focus now.