VANCOUVER — Further changes could be coming to the Vancouver Canucks‘ schedule after one player expressed concern about the team’s difficult road back from a COVID-19 outbreak.
A spokesperson for the NHL Players’ Association said medical groups from the league, the players’ union, and the Canucks will meet Thursday to discuss the results of medical tests and whether any further schedule changes are necessary.
The Canucks were set to hit the ice Thursday for their first team practice since a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the group.
At least 21 players and four members of the Canucks coaching staff have tested positive for the virus since March 30.
Vancouver has not played since March 24 and eight of its games have been postponed due to the outbreak.
The Canucks are slated to close out the regular season with 19 games in 30 days in their revamped schedule, starting against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday.
Vancouver forward J.T. Miller said Wednesday that it would be “very challenging and not very safe” for him and his teammates to play as scheduled on Friday because the team has not had enough time to recover and get back in shape.
Miller did not test positive for COVID-19 during the outbreak but said he still isn’t in game shape and can’t imagine what it would be like for his teammates who were sick to try to get back to a high level of play so quickly.
“It’s kind of frustrating if I’m being 100 per cent honest with you,” Miller said. “We try to talk about the No. 1 priority is the players’ health and the families’ safety, and it’s almost impossible to achieve that with what they’ve asked us to do here on our return.”
Oilers captain Connor McDavid said it’ll be difficult for the Canucks to come back whether they get one practice in before playing or three. It’s important to make sure the players’ health and safety is looked after, he said.
“Obviously a very dangerous situation and we’re hopeful that they can come out of it and everyone can be healthy and fit to play at some point. Whether that’s (Friday), that’s out of our control,” McDavid said. “So I think at this point, we prepare as if we’re going. And if we don’t get on the plane, than we prepare for a big game in Winnipeg on Saturday.”
Seven Canucks remained on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list Wednesday, including defencemen Jalen Chatfield, Alex Edler and Nate Schmidt and forwards Jayce Hawryluk, Nils Hoglander, Zack MacEwen and Jake Virtanen.
A player on the protocol list has not necessarily tested positive. Players who are in self-isolation after travelling or who’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive, for example, are also on the list.
The list does not include team staff or players not on the active roster, including those on the taxi squad.
Medical experts are still learning about the long-term impacts of the virus, especially when it comes to high-performance athletes, said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto.
“It is a lung disease and we know that one of the more common things that people experience, apart from just general fatigue is people do have — for several months, perhaps longer, it varies — ongoing respiratory complaints like shortness of breath as well as just exercise intolerance,” he said.
Other athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 have talked about how difficult it was to get back into top shape, including Fred VanVleet of the Toronto Raptors.
The guard said he suffered from a sore back, sore eyes, body aches and a headache after contracting the virus earlier this year.
It’s not surprising that athletes would have a hard time coming back from COVID-19, Morris said.
“Many people, many patients, regardless of whether they’re professional athletes or not, will do totally fine. The majority of people do totally fine,” he said.
“But there are people who win lotteries. And if you win the lottery and you’re unlucky enough to be hit hard by it, you could have lingering effects that last for months, for sure.”
With files from Joshua Clipperton in Toronto.