Hockey is suddenly secondary.
The immediate concern for the Calgary Flames, with at least three games postponed due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, is the health of the skaters and staffers and their loved ones.
The Flames were supposed to embark Sunday on a two-stop road trip, but their plans changed after testing revealed multiple positives.
It was announced Monday morning that six Flames players — identified by the team as forwards Elias Lindholm, Andrew Mangiapane, Brad Richardson and Adam Ruzicka and defencemen Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov — and one member of the training staff had all entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol within a 24-hour window.
“As of this morning, they were doing well. They’re asymptomatic,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving on Monday afternoon. “You’re concerned for them. You’re concerned for everybody else. Of that group that tested positive, obviously there’s wives, there’s girlfriends, there’s kids attached to those players. So you’re worried about everybody. That’s just how it is. But so far, they’re doing well.
“The biggest thing is you’re trying to keep the picture small right now,” he continued. “The picture is, OK, we tested today, we do everything that we can and communicate with everybody regularly and we see where we get to later today when we get our test results back, and then we deal with that. And you sort of repeat this process for the next few days to see where this goes.”
The Flames are, at a minimum, off the ice until Friday, and their return to the rink will hinge on the results of daily testing. In the meantime, all players are isolating.
With the league citing “concern with continued spread and the likelihood of additional positive cases in the coming days,” three games were immediately postponed — Monday’s matchup against the Blackhawks in Chicago, Tuesday’s clash with the Predators in Nashville and Thursday’s home date with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice,” the NHL said in Monday’s announcement. “The league is in the process of reviewing and revising the Flames’ regular-season schedule.
“The Flames organization has followed, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large as set by the NHL, local, provincial and national agencies.”
Initial results Sunday turned up three positives for the Flames, and their afternoon flight to the Windy City was delayed so the entire travelling party — players, coaches and other staff — could be tested again.
When that number grew to seven, the NHL told the team to stay put at home.
The Flames are the third squad so far this season to have their schedule halted due to the virus.
The Ottawa Senators had three games postponed in mid-November after 10 players and an assistant coach were placed in COVID-19 protocol, while the New York Islanders missed a pair later that month because eight of their skaters were unavailable.
While other teams have played shorthanded, one of the determining factors in Calgary’s case might have been the potential complications of crossing the border. If they had headed to Chicago and Nashville, anyone who tested positive during the road trip would have faced lengthy quarantines in their hotel rooms until they were eligible to return to Canada.
“The initial thought wasn’t that we weren’t going. The initial thought is, ‘OK, we’re going to delay things,’ ” Treliving said. “And then you get the other results back, and now you’re up to seven. So in a short period of time, you go from zero to seven.
“All that information goes to the league, and they make those decisions. A lot of teams have dealt with this — we’ve all been dealing with it for the last couple of years — but I think with some of the situations, as it’s been explained to me by the league, teams may have one or two one day, then another one, and over the course of a week or so, it has escalated. This one, we went from nothing on Saturday to seven on Sunday.
“So ultimately the league made the decision that we’ll pause and see how we progress here.”
Under provincial guidelines, any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 is legally required to isolate for the next 10 days.
That means if the Flames return to action Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, as currently scheduled, they would do so without their first-line centre (Lindholm), their leading goal-scorer (Mangiapane) and one of their workhorse defencemen and top penalty-killers (Tanev).
The lineup was the last thing on their minds Monday.
“When you get positive tests, your mind goes to the players, the staff, the families,” Treliving stressed. “That is Priority No. 1, is the health and safety of everybody and making sure you’re doing everything to keep them as safe as we possibly can.”
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Hockey is suddenly secondary.