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Bigger Than the Game

With as bad as the last year has been for everybody because of COVID 19, I’ve enjoyed seeing the Edmonton Oilers and the rest of the NHL back on the ice, even if it has been in mostly empty buildings. I want hockey, but not at any cost, and no matter how much of a hardcore fan you are or which team you happen to cheer for, there’s a bigger picture out there to consider.

That’s what makes the developing situation with the Vancouver Canucks so alarming in the face of the new variants of COVID that are spreading so quickly. In the case of the Canucks, the Brazilian variant has spread throughout the team and beyond, to the families of coaches and players. While there have been conflicting reports about the scope of what’s happening in Vancouver, it’s not good.

First from Darren Dreger of TSN on Twitter: “Number of positive cases climbing within the Vancouver Canucks. More than 20 players/coaches combined have tested positive. Variant symptoms include vomiting, cramping and dehydration. Family members are getting it. Scary situation. Next 5-7 days will determine scheduling.”

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That drew a response from long-time Canucks’ beat writer Ben Kuzma, also on Twitter: “Been told reported number of positive COVID-19 cases with Canucks isn’t entirely accurate. The number is under 20. There haven’t been severe symptoms. Most experiencing mild headaches, fever, fatigue and lethargy. No reports of vomiting, few with worse symptoms better.”

To which Dreger responded: “18 players and 3 coaches is what a source said this morning.  As for the symptoms…provided by the same source and confirmed by an NHL source.”

WHAT NOW?

Whether the number of cases with the Canucks is just under 20 or just over 20 doesn’t really matter. It’s big trouble either way. Most disturbing in the context of the game itself is word COVID has spread outside the team to families of the players/team personnel. Whether that means wives or children or both, I don’t know based on the information we have now.

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What is known as we’ve watched variant numbers increase, is that this Brazilian variant is a completely different animal. While the NHL did a remarkable job managing COVID in bubbles set up in Toronto and Edmonton for play-ins and playoffs last season, with no known cases, the 56-game schedule appears to be in jeopardy, even with vaccines finally being rolled out.

Unlike the first and second waves of COVID, this variant is taking down younger, healthy people. This isn’t simply about a virus that is impacting older people with existing health issues. Both inside and outside the context of the NHL, we’re talking about young, strong healthy people getting sick. If it’s a race between the new COVID variants and vaccines, COVID is winning.

According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN: Bo Horvat, Thatcher Demko, Travis Boyd, Jayce Hawyrluk, Tyler Motte, Tyler Myers and Brandon Sutter were added to the NHL’s COVID list Saturday along with one taxi squad player and three coaches. Alex Edler, Braden Holtby, Quinn Hughes, Zack MacEwan and Antoine Roussel were added to the list Friday. Travis Hamonic and Adam Gaudette were listed on COVID protocols list April 1.

Small picture, the Oilers already had Saturday’s game against the Canucks postponed and they’re scheduled to play them again April 12 and 14. I can’t imagine those games being played, but that’s just a guess on my part. The Oilers are scheduled to face the Canucks five more times – more than any other team in the North Division – so this outbreak impacts them directly. As it stands, the Oilers are flying to Montreal, where they already had games postponed, today to face the Canadiens Monday before two games against the Ottawa Senators.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“It’s something that we’ve talked about all season long is keeping it (COVID) out,” Connor McDavid said today. “I think it’s a huge part of the season, unfortunately. Obviously, what’s happening in Vancouver is a lot more than hockey, so we’re hoping everyone is doing alright and families and everyone are OK and that they get healthy as quickly as possible.”

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So, what happens next? How does the NHL handle the situation unfolding in Vancouver? The Canucks appear to be out of the mix, at least for the foreseeable future. Does it make any sense to take league-wide break now to get a handle on this third wave and set a new timeline? While the NHL doesn’t want to shorten the season and go by points percentage to determine standings and playoffs, that’s an option. I don’t have the answers.

Like I said off the top, I want hockey, but not at any cost. This new, more dangerous COVID variant is changing the game inside and outside the rink. We can’t dismiss or downplay the bigger picture in the name of finishing a season and handing out the Stanley Cup.

Previously by Robin Brownlee