Down half their roster, Flames fighting through after COVID outbreak
Oilers’ depth players dragging team down again
Flames facing test with first losing streak of season, but little reason for fans to be concerned
Dec 14, 2021
The Canadian Press
Connor McDavid calls the idea of potentially having to quarantine up to five weeks in China following a positive COVID-19 test at the Beijing Olympics “unsettling” as the NHL’s participation at the 2022 Winter Games remains up in the air — and coronavirus cases and postponements continue to rise sharply across the league.
One of three players already named to Canada’s provisional Olympic team, the Edmonton Oilers captain believes his hockey brethren needs to continue collecting all available facts before making a final decision.
“It’s obviously going to be a very fluid situation,” McDavid said Tuesday before Edmonton hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There hasn’t been a ton of information come out, and then there’s that three-to-five week (quarantine) thing … it’s kind of been floating around.
“Obviously, it’s unsettling if that were to be the case when you go over there.”
The league committed to Beijing as part of the extension to the current collective bargaining agreement signed with NHL Players’ Association after skipping the Olympics four years ago in South Korea, but can pull out of the Games at any point.
The NHL has until Jan. 10 to nix the plan without financial penalty if COVID-19 causes enough of a disruption to its season.
“I’m still a guy that’s wanting to go play in the Olympics,” McDavid said. “But we also want to make sure it’s safe for everybody.
“For all the athletes, not just for hockey players.”
The International Olympic Committee has said an athlete that tests positive for COVID-19 in China will need to produce two negative results 24 hours apart.
If they’re unable to do so, the quarantine period could last from 21 days up to five weeks.
Asked if even the minimum quarantine being floated would see the reigning Hart Trophy winner remove himself from consideration, McDavid reiterated a need to get all the particulars.
“I’m not in the position to make that decision today,” he said.
McDavid is also far from the only high-profile NHLer contemplating what’s just over the horizon.
Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Alex Pietrangelo — named alongside McDavid and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby as provisional members of the Canadian squad — said Sunday he’s not sure if he’ll be going to China.
Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner last week became the first player to announce publicly he wouldn’t be going to the Games because of the quarantine rules.
Leafs captain John Tavares added Monday the situation made him “uneasy” after learning of the current requirements should he be selected by Canada.
The way things are trending, however, the decision might end up out of the players’ hands as more of them enter the league’s COVID-19 protocol.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at the recent board of governors meeting in Florida the decision on going to the Games would rest with the players — as long as the virus doesn’t throw a wrench in the league’s calendar.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly added that “any material (COVID-19) disruption to our season would certainly give us a reason to withdraw.”
A total of nine NHL games have already been postponed, including four this week.
The Calgary Flames are the latest club to suffer a major outbreak with nine players — defenceman Noah Hanifin, and forwards Milan Lucic and Sean Monahan were placed into protocol Tuesday — and a staff member sidelined, causing three contests to be scratched.
General manager Brad Treliving told reporters on a video conference call Tuesday those impacted “are doing well,” adding it’s unclear if the positive tests are a result of the Omicron variant.
“We’ve been communicating back and forth,” Treliving said. “Guys are feeling good.”
Medical experts for the league and players’ association had a previously scheduled meeting set for Wednesday night to review COVID-19 protocols. A source told The Canadian Press the focus will likely be on enhancing current measures.
All but one NHL player — Tyler Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings — is fully vaccinated. Lucic said in a since-deleted Twitter post Tuesday the Flames are “100 per cent vaccinated and some like myself also have a booster.”
The Vancouver Canucks, who endured the NHL’s worst outbreak last season, put defenceman Luke Schenn and winger Juho Lammikko into protocol Tuesday after cancelling the team’s morning skate ahead of its home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Vancouver subsequently announced shortly before the opening faceoff that blue-liner Brad Hunt had also been placed in protocol. Then in the first period Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman was pulled from the game and placed into protocol.
“There has to be a comfort level,” Canucks president and interim GM Jim Rutherford said before the game. “And nobody was comfortable at (Rogers Arena) this morning, nor would we expect them to be.”
“They don’t want to (catch the virus) again,” he added. “That’s why we’re trying to move on this as quickly as we can and be as cautious as we can.”
The initial Canucks news came after the Carolina Hurricanes placed centres Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis and a member of the training staff in protocol Monday. The Canucks hosted the Hurricanes on Sunday.
“They’re not getting sick, but they’re paying the price for it — they have to just sit there (in Vancouver),” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said Tuesday of his quarantined players. “Super frustrating, especially when it happens on the road, and then obviously in another country because there’s different rules.
“I feel for those guys because it’s super tough on them.”
Shortly after Brind’Amour spoke, the league announced Carolina’s game Tuesday in Minnesota against the Wild had been postponed with four more Hurricanes, including captain Jordan Staal, in protocol.
Meanwhile, Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal and Edmonton forward Ryan McLeod were also among those placed in protocol, bringing league’s overall number of players to north of 130 so far this season — including 17 on Tuesday alone.
The Oilers, meanwhile, announced roughly two hours before Tuesday’s game against Toronto that head coach Dave Tippett wouldn’t be behind the bench for “precautionary reasons.” After the game Edmonton’s coach was officially put into the league’s protocol.
Asked if the significant uptick in positive tests and postponements was giving him flashbacks to March 2020 when the sports world and much of society ground to a halt, Treliving wouldn’t go quite that far.
“I don’t think anything is going to feel like that,” he said. “That was a cold slap (to the face).”
But there’s no doubting it’s another uncomfortable time with plenty of questions and few answers.
-With files from Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 14, 2021.
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