VANCOUVER – One week into the Vancouver Canucks’ COVID-19 outbreak, we can see the full scope of the crisis. It has affected most of the lineup.
The addition Monday of rookie Nils Hoglander to the NHL’s COVID protocol list brings the number of players who have tested positive to 17. Another unnamed player from the taxi squad is quarantining as a high-risk close contact. Three members of the coaching staff have also tested positive, raising to 21 the number of people felled by the biggest and most dangerous outbreak of the NHL’s pandemic season.
Out of 24 players who participated in the Canucks’ morning skate last Wednesday, a few hours before their game against the Calgary Flames was postponed and Vancouver’s season halted, only defencemen Jordie Benn and Nate Schmidt, and forwards Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey, Jake Virtanen and Tyler Graovac have not been placed in COVID protocol. They continue to self-isolate.
Benn tested positive for the coronavirus in January, and at least a couple of other Canucks have antibodies after contracting the virus before this season began, Sportsnet has learned.
But Canucks winger Jayce Hawryluk is compelling proof that having endured COVID once does not guarantee future immunity.
After contracting the coronavirus last March while with the Ottawa Senators, Hawryluk was one of seven players added to the Canucks’ COVID list on Saturday.
Due partly to Hawryluk’s re-infection, but also the speed and voracity of the Canucks’ outbreak and Vancouver’s status as a global hotspot for the P-1 strain of the virus, the league and club have been proceeding under the belief they are dealing with the highly-transmissible variant that originated in Brazil.
The Canucks were still awaiting Monday lab screening results confirming the P-1 variant in their outbreak.
The outbreak began with winger Adam Gaudette, who was pulled from Tuesday’s practice after next-day results from Monday testing identified him as COVID-positive. Defenceman Travis Hamonic participated fully in Wednesday’s morning skate before same-day testing revealed a positive result about 90 minutes before that night’s game against the Flames was postponed. So the Canucks had two on-ice sessions with infected players.
As with any viral outbreak, symptoms among players have varied. A few have been asymptomatic, with some noticing typical flu-like conditions like fever and fatigue, while others have endured more serious symptoms like vomiting. In a couple of instances, dehydration was severe enough that the Canucks dispatched medical staff to administer IV drips to players in their homes.
One of the players reported flu-like symptoms for one day, followed by severe fatigue the next.
None of the Canucks, however, have required hospitalization and some of the players who experienced symptoms are now in the recovery phase of their illness.
The NHL has not updated the Canucks’ schedule since Thursday, when it postponed a total of four games and set targets for return to practice on Tuesday and return to play Thursday.
With a dozen players, half the Vancouver roster, going on to the COVID protocol list Friday and Saturday, those optimistic targets obviously will not be met.
Vancouver reporter Irfaan Gaffar tweeted Monday that the team has been told to continue self-isolating until at least Sunday.
The Canucks have recalled Canadian-based minor-league players Arturs Silovs (from Manitoba) and Guillaume Brisebois (Laval), and should also have Kole Lind available if needed because the winger travelled to Vancouver from the Utica Comets to have an injury assessed before the COVID crisis began.
The Comets, who are just emerging from their own coronavirus shutdown, have been put on standby to send reinforcements as soon as the Canucks know when they’ll actually play again. Those minor-league players crossing the border are subject to a seven-day quarantine.
Opening-month outbreaks in New Jersey and Buffalo resulted in those teams going 15 days and 14 days, respectively, between games. But the Devils and Sabres were not dealing with the P-1 variant.
Although NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Province in a weekend email, “I have no indication that the Canucks as an organization have been lax on their compliance with our protocols,” the league did send Saturday a memo cautioning teams about non-compliance.
“As we approach the stretch run of the 2020/21 Regular Season, we have begun to encounter incidences of non-compliance with the COVID-19 Protocol, which have resulted in exposure to, and infection from, the COVID virus (and super-contagious variants there of),” the memo to the Canucks and other teams began. “These have resulted in a number of recent group and Club-wide quarantines and other disruptions to Club routines and schedules. The purpose of this memorandum is to remind Club personnel that now is not the time to relax attention to and compliance with the COVID-19 Protocol.”
In a same-day memo to players and agents, NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr wrote of the Canucks: “Well over half of the players have now tested positive, and there are also a number of positives among staff members. Early indications are that this outbreak may be one of the new variants of concern which are very easily spread.
“Needless to say, this is not the time to relax. Please continue to be vigilant and meticulous in your observation of good public practices.”
No one from the Canucks has been made available to answer questions about how closely players have adhered to NHL safety protocols, which include wearing masks inside the dressing room, since the outbreak began.
General manager Jim Benning released a statement on Sunday thanking fans for their support and various bodies for the medical care and guidance the Canucks are getting.
“Our focus continues to be on the health of everyone involved,” Benning said.
It was an honest statement. One week in, this crisis is still about humans, not hockey.