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Covid Simply Hates the Canucks, NHL Guidelines Not Helping

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Vancouver Canucks, Thatcher Demko
Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko.

“How about now?!” That’s a question the Vancouver Canucks might be asking the NHL this week, although at this point it’s too-little-too-late anyway. Most everyone that makes a difference on this fringe Western Conference wild card contender has already gone through Covid protocols.

The NHL has said that it will no longer require testing for asymptomatic players starting after the All-Star weekend that ends February 6th. Yippee. Forgive the Vancouver Canucks if they’re not overly excited, given the fact that 16 different players and three coaches, mostly asymptomatic, have already tested positive and missed games.

The seven Canucks game postponements between December 18th and January 8th were supposed to relieve some of the pressure on Covid-depleted line-ups, but in a way they only made things worse. A few postponements were unavoidable, but a couple were merely fiscal decisions.

When the NHL cancelled its players’ participation in the Beijing Olympics it dissolved the three week break on the February NHL calendar and opened the league and team owners to temptation.

“Why play home games now in front of a small crowd when we can probably play later in front of a big one?” Ching ching.

That wasn’t the case for all of the re-schedules league-wide obviously, but it was for a few of them.

What if?

The nagging one, the postponement of the Ottawa Senators match on the 8th that was apparently made for crowd capacity reasons. Would it have been a 50%, maybe only a 25% crowd at Rogers Arena, matters little at this point.

I argue the hurt the postponement inflicted on the home team was two fold. First, it cost the Canucks a likely two points. The club was still very confident then, its core healthy, and the Senators beat up. Vancouver was riding high.

Secondly, taking that game off the calendar meant riding cold into a five-game eastern road gauntlet three nights later. It took a game for the Canucks to find their legs, a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Yep, a very good Florida team, but we know a confident, enthusiastic, in-its-groove Canucks club might have done a little something different with that 2-1 deficit after the first period, if they were even in a deficit in the first place. They skated hard, they were in it, but they had no feel.

Then, a slightly different team with a slightly different mindset gradually found its legs but lost 4-2 in Tampa two nights later.

Two days after that the Canucks lost again in Carolina after scheduled starting goalie Jaroslav Halak and captain Bo Horvat succumbed to positive tests pre-game. The added workload benefited number-one goalie Thatcher Demko, who hadn’t completely been himself at the start of the journey.

Again, it’s unfortunate he had to go through “finding his game” in the first place.

Back in a groove, even short-staffed, he and the Vancouver Canucks won the last two games of the trip.

Combine these irregularities and the man-made scheduling transgressions with the nightmare of last season, and it’s safe to say Covid has not been a big fan of the BC Boys, and vice versa. After the pandemic swept through the team, then head coach Travis Green wasn’t himself for months. Checking forward Brandon Sutter, a victim of long-haul Covid side affects, still hasn’t resumed his career.

Onward

Here a review of the enhanced NHL provisions announced January 18th:

i. There will be no testing of Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff during the All-Star break (including for participating Players and staff), unless needed for travel or development of symptoms.

– Oh, what do you know, no testing for the All-Star players. That’s convenient timing. Ching, ching.

ii. There will be a single test upon re-entry to Club facilities post-All-Star, after which there will no longer be asymptomatic testing, or testing of Fully Vaccinated close contacts.

– Sounds good. How does last week sound?

iii. Thereafter, testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis in Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff who develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel.

– Oooo, look out for that last one. Sounds like even though the NHL is lightening up, Canadian teams in particular might still run into faulty tests when going cross-border and still have to deal with the bureaucratic protocol circus, asymptomatic or not. That part of it is out of the league’s hands.

The NHL will review these ‘enhanced protocols’ again on January 31st and might lighten up even more, five days before the All-Star Game.

Just in time.

VHN Managing Editor Rob Simpson has been covering the NHL for three decades on live TV, radio, and as a journalist. He worked his first ever game getting postgame sound as a teenager; it was Vancouver vs. Detroit.

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