MONTREAL—It was shortly after Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s and Joel Armia’s names were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol list that we sent an email to the league’s deputy commissioner to see if Monday’s game between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers at the Bell Centre would become the first in Canada to be postponed since the season got underway on Jan. 13.
“No, there won’t be a postponement tonight,” Bill Daly responded.
Four minutes later, Daly emailed back to say he had been made aware of “new facts” and that we shouldn’t rule out a postponement.
At 6:29 p.m. ET, 51 minutes after we heard last from Daly, the NHL made the official announcement the game would be played at a later date and that the league would provide a further update on Tuesday, which left us more than enough time to piece together the events of the day and also ponder all the ramifications.
First, let’s get to what we know—even if what we don’t know is going to dominate the conversation for the coming hours. And, regarding what we don’t know, things can change in an instant.
We know the Canadiens had a day off on Sunday. They returned to their practice facility in Brossard, Que., for Monday’s morning skate, submitted to testing and then took to the ice. Every player who played in Saturday’s game against the Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, including Kotkaniemi and Armia, participated (Tyler Toffoli, who missed Saturday’s game with a lower-body injury, did not).
A media availability was held through Zoom with Kotkaniemi and Armia’s linemate, Artturi Lehkonen, speaking first. Lehkonen’s session was followed by one with Victor Mete, and then coach Dominique Ducharme’s ended just before noon ET.
Armia’s name first popped up on the COVID protocol list shortly after 5 p.m. ET on Monday, and Kotkaniemi’s name was added minutes later.
No other names have been added since. None from Vancouver, either, with the Canucks having submitted results prior to their game with the Winnipeg Jets, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. local (10 p.m. ET) at Rogers Arena.
We know the Canadiens have rigidly abided by the NHL’s protocols to date, as confirmed by multiple team sources, but let’s get to what we don’t know.
We don’t know whether or not protocol was breached in this case.
We don’t know if either Kotkaniemi or Armia in fact have COVID-19, or if they were just in close contact with someone who recently tested positive, or if their own tests were accurate (we’ve seen false positives happen everywhere—including in Montreal, with Toffoli prior to training camp—and that is a possibility here).
We also don’t know when Monday’s game will be made up, nor do we know how the rest of the Canadian schedule will be affected by this postponement.
The Oilers are scheduled to be in Montreal through Friday night, so it’s possible this game will be made up on Tuesday. But that would only be possible if the situation with the Canadiens doesn’t devolve further.
We certainly hope it doesn’t, for the health and safety of all parties involved. Never mind what it would mean for Montreal’s season, which is obviously secondary.
Meanwhile, Monday’s cancelation marks the first two-day break the Canadiens have had between games since a stretch from Feb. 14 to Feb. 19. We’ll see how long they’re off for once the NHL provides more details on Tuesday.