Suddenly, everything is in flux for the Calgary Flames as concern and uncertainty have gripped the National Hockey League.
The rapidly rising number of positive COVID-19 cases on the Vancouver Canucks has shone a much-needed spotlight on just how virulent the third wave of the novel coronavirus is.
It was only a handful of days ago the Flames had their first postponement of the year, when they were 90 minutes away from facing a Canucks team that now has 16 players in the league's COVID protocols.
Coming so close to being part of a game that could have had extensive ramifications as a televised super-spreader event, several Flames admitted Sunday they’re now wondering if the regular season may have to end prematurely, as it did last season.
“Yeah, I think that’s a good possibility for sure,” said Flames defenceman Chris Tanev, hours before Sunday night’s first of two scheduled tilts against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. “I don’t know if there’s a good chance, but there is a chance we maybe don’t play all the games we have, so we’ve got to be able to win the games we’re playing in now to have a shot here.”
Tanev and the rest of his teammates are the first to point out the games and the scheduling issues pale in comparison to the importance of their colleagues’ health, a point hammered home by Tanev, who has been in regular contact with several of his former teammates in Vancouver throughout their ordeal.
“First and foremost I think you just hope everyone’s okay and no one has any serious side effects or anything from testing positive or catching COVID — obviously that’s the most important thing,” said Tanev, who played the first decade of his career in Vancouver before joining Calgary this season.
“Going from there, who knows what’s going to happen. The league is going to make the calls on all that, how long they’re shut down and if we’re going to play make up games or whatnot. I think everyone is still waiting to see what happens with that.”
Like the rest of the hockey world, Darryl Sutter has been following the Vancouver situation intensely and he hopes the Canucks' situation is opening a lot of eyes well beyond the NHL community.
“I have a nephew there who is married with children, so obviously I’ve been following it very closely,” said Sutter of Canucks forward Brandon, who was one of the 14 players added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list Saturday.
“Hopefully it sends a message to the world that these guys are young guys with families and children and we’re seeing it more with this variant — it sends a message of what we have to do in terms of being careful.”
Message received, said Andrew Mangiapane.
“It’s a little scary about everything,” said the Flames winger. “Obviously you don’t want to catch COVID and all that. A little scary from that aspect. From our standpoint we’ve just got to do a good job washing hands, wearing masks and staying safe when you go out. It’s obviously scary, but hopefully things get back on track here soon and we figure out everything.”
Following back-to-back games with the Leafs, the Flames' schedule has them slated to host the Canucks Thursday and Saturday, neither of which seem likely now.
It could potentially open up an eight-day gap for the Flames, whose next game could be in Toronto one day after next Monday’s trade deadline.
Who knows what the league and various cities around it look like after that, as COVID variants threaten to do what its originator did a little over a year ago to pro sports.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a possibility,” said Mangiapane of another abbreviated regular season. “Obviously I don’t know much or what the league is going to be doing. But it’s going down to the later point in the season. Obviously it’s going to be tough to fill in those games. We’ll see what happens.”
The NHL has had to reschedule 45 games this season, but none in Canada until the Montreal Canadiens missed four games in March. No team has come close to being as ravaged by COVID-19 as the Canucks, whose list of positive tests includes players who have reportedly tested positive for the more infectious P.1 variant, which was first found in Brazil.
“Thus far the Canadian division had been pretty good — obviously Montreal had two weeks ago their positives and now Vancouver,” said Tanev, who has heard reports that some Canucks players have been suffering from things like dehydration and vomiting, forcing some to be in IVs at home.
“The restrictions that are there are in place for a reason. Obviously so far this year we’ve been able to follow them the best we can, and I hope that we continue to do that as the year progresses here.”
NOTES: David Rittich is expected to get the start against the Leafs Sunday and Mikael Backlund was given the green light by Sutter to return after missing one game with an injury.