The Vancouver Canucks continue their season on Sunday, playing their final 19 games in 32 days, the NHL announced Friday.
According to the revised schedule, the North Division will open its season on the 19th. The end of May, the last possible buffer day for the NHL, is built into the schedule to award the Stanley Cup in mid-July. According to the league, the possibility exists that the Stanley Cup playoffs will begin in three U.S. divisions while Canadian teams complete their schedules.
The Canucks have been hit with an outbreak of COVID-19 and should be employable again for Friday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. However, the league gave Vancouver an extra two days to prepare after veteran forward J.T. Miller expressed passionately that his team was rushing and that it was dangerous for many players.
What we’re being asked to do wouldn’t be very safe, if you ask me, Miller told reporters.
J.T.’s comments were exactly what we needed, Canucks captain Bo Horvath said Friday. He had the full support of his teammates and we all felt the same way.
General manager Jim Benning also supported Miller’s message.
We are dealing with a different type of COVID; the P1 variant is different. We didn’t know what to expect, Benning said Friday. When our players came back and started training, they had some symptoms that were different from normal COVIDs, and took a little longer to get going. I think that’s what JT’s message is saying.
The NHLPA held a video conference with the Canucks players Wednesday night to discuss their concerns, a source told ESPN. Several players appeared at the Canucks’ center Thursday and underwent medical examinations and heart tests. Then the NHL, the NHLPA and the Canucks’ medical teams decided what to do.
All players under contract with COVID-19 must be approved by the team physician and cardiologist before they are allowed back on the ice.
Originally, the NHL played Friday and Saturday when the Canucks returned. In the new schedule, Vancouver plays on Sunday and then Tuesday, with both games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canucks have five rounds left on their schedule.
If the guys weren’t healthy enough to play, they wouldn’t play, Horvath said of the original plan to play Friday. We had to get an assessment from the medical teams. A lot of people didn’t understand. We need enough guys to fill the roster, and the guys just weren’t healthy enough to play. Now the boys are starting to improve, and many will be ready to play on Sunday.
Benning said there are three other players who are not good enough to start or practice.
I think most of our guys will be available [Sunday], minus three or four guys, Benning said.
Miller was one of the few players on the team who did not contract the virus in recent weeks. More than 20 players have tested positive, as have some of their family members. Members of the management team were also affected.
Head coach Travis Green is one of those who caught the virus. Benning said Green hasn’t been on the ice yet, but he hopes to have a practice Saturday and be behind the bench Sunday.
My wife also tested positive, Horvath said. It hit them a little harder than it did me, and it’s going to take a while. It’s starting to show now, and the last thing I was worried about was getting on the ice and playing hockey.
Many of the infected had symptoms – body aches, chills, dehydration – including one player who had to be vaccinated intravenously, a source told ESPN. One player told ESPN on Tuesday that he was still suffering from brain fog, although doctors told him it was no longer contagious.
I hope people don’t take it the wrong way, I’m a super combative guy, said Miller, who played nine years in the NHL. But for our team, it’s not about hockey. It is about the health and safety of our players, their families and their children. It’s not about making the playoffs.
The Canucks are 10 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth playoff spot in the North Division.
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