COVID-19: Canucks game against Oilers postponed due to player preparation concerns

The Canucks were meant to restart play on Friday night but now will wait another day or two after the players voiced concerns over their health.

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The Vancouver Canucks’ return to the ice has been put on hold.

The NHL confirmed Thursday afternoon that the Canucks will not play the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night at Rogers Arena, as previously scheduled.

“The National Hockey League announced today that the Vancouver Canucks’ return to game play is being delayed from Friday, April 16,” the league confirmed in an email.

The Canucks are scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Rogers Arena but it’s also expected to be postponed.

“The decision to extend the period prior to the team’s resumption of play was made to provide club staff and players with additional time for recovery and preparation following its recent COVID outbreak. The NHL made the decision with input from the league’s, NHLPA’s and club’s medical groups,” the league said.

Longtime NHL media executive John Shannon reported on Twitter that Saturday’s game would likely be rescheduled to Sunday; the Canucks and Leafs were already scheduled to play on Monday, which Shannon believes will remain on the schedule.

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Canucks general manager Jim Benning said it wasn’t until the players finally started hitting the ice this week, even in limited numbers, that it became clear just how hard the coronavirus had hit them.

“We’re dealing with this variant, it’s new,” he said, referencing the variant of COVID-19 first identified in Brazil (P.1), which infected most of the Canucks’ lineup just over two weeks ago.

The approach that had been taken with outbreaks on other NHL teams earlier in the season didn’t necessarily apply to the Canucks, he said.

The Canucks are the first NHL team dealing with the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, and it’s taken a heavy toll on their game readiness.
The Canucks are the first NHL team dealing with the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, and it’s taken a heavy toll on their game readiness. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /NHL/Getty Images

“Our doctors, as we go through the different protocols, from going through the quarantines and doing the EKGs and the blood tests and getting guys on the ice, and how they’re feeling, they’ve been very cautious,” Benning said, highlighting the work of the team’s medical staff, led by Dr. Jim Bovard and Jon Sanderson, the team’s director of medical services.

“And we’ve still got some guys that aren’t feeling great,” Benning added. “These are world-class athletes, they’re feeling OK until they put their equipment on and they have to skate. … Everyone’s working to do what’s right for the players, first and foremost, and for their families.”

The league and the players’ association are in ongoing discussions about the remainder of the Canucks’ schedule.

The league’s decision to delay comes a day after Canucks forward J.T. Miller spoke with the media and called the schedule his team was facing following the lengthy layoff “dangerous.” Miller’s airing of concerns wasn’t an accident and he wasn’t speaking alone or out of turn, Postmedia has learned.

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Representatives from the NHL Players’ Association later met with the Canucks’ players on a video call and were told of the health and safety concerns they had.

Beginning Friday, the Canucks were meant to play 19 games in 31 nights after being out of action for more than three weeks. The first week was a scheduled break for the team, the latter two weeks were lost because of the COVID-19 outbreak. They would have had just one or two opportunities to practise together as a team before playing on Friday, and for some players Wednesday was the first time they were able to get on the ice to even skate in an individual workout.

The Wednesday evening meeting was apparently constructive. Several players who have been cleared from the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list in the last two days said they didn’t feel ready to play, that their recovery was taking longer than they had hoped, echoing Miller’s concerns.

The Canucks were to practise Thursday for the first time as a team in two weeks; but with a number of players undergoing additional testing from team doctors, the decision was made to close Thursday’s practice to media, as it was not clear who would be able to take part in the scheduled practice, nor if that practice would even start on time.

The assessments by the team physician and cardiologist were to determine if the players are fit to play, and the doctors could recommend to the league and players’ association that further modifications be made to the Canucks’ schedule.

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Their early determination found that the team wouldn’t be healthy enough to face the Oilers on Friday night.

Before word leaked out that Friday’s game was being postponed, Oilers captain Connor McDavid told reporters in a Zoom session that health and safety was the first priority in assessing the Canucks’ situation.

“I think you’ve got to make sure that’s taken care of first,” he said. “That’s a lot of games in not a ton of nights, with travel across the country.”

pjohnston@postmedia.com

twitter.com/risingaction


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