VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks will start the season of COVID-19 without their leading scorer from last season.
First-line winger J.T. Miller is expected to miss not only his team’s opener Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers, but the Canucks’ initial four-game trip to Alberta – and perhaps longer – due to novel coronavirus testing and the league’s travel protocols.
General manager Jim Benning confirmed on Sportsnet 650 radio Tuesday evening that Miller and veteran depth defenceman Jordie Benn “aren’t available” for the Canucks' doubleheaders in Edmonton and Calgary.
Benn was absent from practice Monday, the day after the Canucks abruptly cancelled workouts at Rogers Arena for what coach Travis Green later revealed was a “false positive” COVID-19 test on a player.
Miller – who led the Canucks last season with 27 goals and 72 points in 69 games – practised Monday, but was absent on Tuesday, as was Benn. Miller is staying in a basement suite in Benn’s house.
Players who record a false positive test remain isolated and must test negative for three consecutive days before rejoining their teams. But under the extensive protocols established by the NHL in agreement with health officials, players can not travel by plane commercially or privately except on team flights, which rules out Miller and Benn for at least the season-opening road trip.
Benning opted against offering any details on the health or status of Miller and Benn except to confirm they are unavailable to play, and said the NHL will release a statement on Wednesday.
Defenceman Travis Hamonic, who formally signed a one-year, $1.25-million contract Tuesday after joining the Canucks on a tryout before training camp, was on the team flight to Edmonton and will be added to the 21-man NHL roster the Canucks submitted Tuesday to the NHL.
Miller’s roster spot will be taken by Nils Hoglander, the rookie winger who was the surprise of training camp. For salary-cap purposes, Hoglander was initially assigned to the Canucks’ six-man travelling taxi squad, but was always intended to play Wednesday and will line up alongside Bo Horvat on the second line.
Jake Virtanen was promoted in Tuesday’s practice to Miller’s place beside Elias Pettersson on the first line, while extra forward Zack MacEwen skated on the third line with Adam Gaudette.
The salary for Miller and Benn continue to count against the Canucks’ salary cap, but the team created financial wriggle room for itself by moving concussed forward Micheal Ferland to long-term injured reserve.
Other players named to the taxi squad, essentially the only safety net the Canucks have against further injuries or COVID-related absences, include forwards Loui Eriksson and Justin Bailey, defencemen Brogan Rafferty and Jack Rathbone and third goalie Mike DiPietro.