VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks players, who endured the most serious coronavirus outbreak of the National Hockey League’s pandemic season, were uncomfortable with the idea of skating Tuesday morning after two new members of the team tested positive for COVID-19.
Awaiting further test results, the Canucks won’t know until this evening whether Tuesday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets will be played.
“It's our decision but we work with the players,” Canucks president Jim Rutherford said of the sudden cancellation of the morning skate. “There has to be a comfort level here. And nobody was comfortable here at the building this morning, nor would we expect them to be. So when we found out that the players weren't comfortable, we just felt that it was better to play it safe this morning.
"The players are ready to play the game; they have no problem with playing the game tonight. But there was not a comfort level to be around very long this morning.”
The Canucks announced that defenceman Luke Schenn and centre Juho Lammikko had tested positive for COVID-19 and entered the NHL’s COVID protocol, which mandates isolation for at least 10 days. Later in the night, defenceman Brad Hunt joined them.
Rutherford said he hoped to have follow-up test results for the team’s players and staff by 6 p.m. PT, about an hour before the Canucks and Blue Jackets are scheduled to face off.
He said he didn’t know what number of players would need to test positive for the game to be postponed but it is more than the two currently in protocol.
Schenn and Lammikko joined the Canucks this season.
In April, 25 members of the organization, including 21 players, tested positive for the debilitating P.1 variant of COVID-19 before vaccinations were widely available.
Veteran Canuck centre Brandon Sutter continues to suffer long-haul effects from the virus and has spent this season on long-term injured reserve.
Including injured players, there are a dozen Canucks on the roster who were part of last spring’s outbreak that caused the organization to shut down for nearly two weeks and go 23 days between games.
“I can't speak for them, but based on what I knew about last year, that was not an experience anybody wants,” Rutherford, hired by the Canucks on Thursday, told reporters on Zoom after the team closed its media interview room. “They don't want it again. And that's why we're trying to move on this as quickly as we can and be as cautious as we can.”
All Canucks players and staff are full vaccinated, but early studies on Omicron suggest it is highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines than other variants.
The Canucks may have been caught on the weekend in a COVID triangulation with the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes.
Editor's Note: The COVID-19 situation, in the NHL and around the world, is constantly evolving. Readers in Canada can consult the country's public health website for the latest. For readers in British Columbia, the BC Centre for Disease Control has several province-specific resources available.
Three more Flames players went into COVID protocol on Tuesday, raising to 10 the number of players and staff who have tested positive. Calgary’s games have been cancelled through at least Thursday. Two members of the Hurricanes went into protocol on Monday.
Carolina visted Calgary on Saturday, then played the Canucks on Sunday at Rogers Arena.
Winners of four straight games since Travis Green was fired as coach and Jim Benning as general manager on Dec. 5, the Canucks are supposed to leave Wednesday for a road game against the San Jose Sharks.
“We live in a different world, and we all have to make adjustments to it,” Rutherford said. “And we'll adjust to this situation. The Canucks have experienced this before, last year. It's not a fun place to be for our players. It wasn't something that was easy to go through last year and nobody wants to get in that same situation this year.
"So we're all reminding everybody to follow the proper protocols that are set out by the league. It's not fun, but it’s the hand we're dealt with.”
With Lammikko and Schenn out, the Canucks recalled minor-league forward Phil Di Giuseppe. To make room for him under the salary cap, the team placed injured defenceman Travis Hamonic on long-term injured reserve.
Rutherford said Hamonic, who did not play the last two games, is unlikely to be ready to play before his minimum 10-game LTIR absence elapses.