The NHL announced that the Vancouver Canucks season delayed a bit further than originally planned today.
Canucks Season Delayed
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Yes, there were contingency plans for a team getting hit with COVID-19 badly enough to suspend play. It had already happened to plenty of teams, after all:
- The Dallas Stars didn’t play a game until January 22nd;
- the New Jersey Devils missed the first half of February;
- the Buffalo Sabres lost those same two weeks;
- the Montreal Canadiens went 10 days between games at the end of March;
- Carolina Hurricanes were out 10 days themselves in January;
- Colorado Avalanche went 12 days between February games;
- Minnesota Wild had a 14-day gap, also in February;
- Philadelphia Flyers were out from the 7th to the 18th of February.
So what sets the Vancouver Canucks apart?
Pretty much the entire team – 25 cases between players, coaches, and staff – caught this variant, whichever one it happens to be. This isn’t just a case of the players isolating themselves while a couple of them recover. We know some had mild cases, possibly even asymptomatic, but others were not so lucky. Stories of hydrating drips and being “able to get to the couch after two days” have circulated, though names weren’t attached to them.
The fact that this can hit anyone hard – yes, even athletes – isn’t unique to the Canucks. The timing, on the other hand, is.
The Canucks played a very condensed schedule at the start of the season. By March 24th they had played 37 games in 70 days to a 16-18-3 record. The return to play was originally – back when the season was semi-normal – on the 31st of March. And boy, they needed it after injuries left them with essentially one centre. And even Bo Horvat was on the limp.
Unfortunately, the variant that hit the dressing room is far more contagious than expected. Enough of the team caught the disease that the league put their season on hold for another week. Soon, though, it was evident that one week wasn’t going to do it. Even with players brought up from their minor system and loans, there simply weren’t enough to field a team. So another week was added, and there we were discussing the possibility of resuming play on Friday. Right up until J.T. Miller’s outspoken media availability and the resulting firestorm. So open practice became a closed one and the conversation changed.
Ya Wanna Live Forever?
The league, obviously, wants the season to be as fair to each team as possible. There are things it can’t control, of course, but an equal number of games against each other team is the ideal. That never quite gets reached for practical reasons, but it’s the goal. It’s obviously not just the Canucks whose standings are affected, but everyone who is scheduled to play against them. The teams well out of Vancouver’s reach are still competing for playoff positions.
There’s some consideration for individual players’ statistics, as well. Suddenly losing half a dozen games from the schedule can be the difference between being a 15- or a 20-goal scorer. There’s always points-per-game, sure, but not for Tyler Toffoli, for instance. He’s put up impressive numbers so far, but take 8 goals away against the Canucks and they aren’t quite as great. That being said…
There is a hard deadline looming, here. The Olympics in Japan is going to start on July 23rd (er… probably). The NHL is frantic to avoid competing against them. Having the Stanley Cup Championship kicked off the air isn’t ideal for the league, but that’s what’s going to happen if they overlap. The final game of the season must be played by then.
End result? The Canucks season delayed means the Canucks season is potentially even MORE compressed. It’s not just that they’re coming back after three weeks off the ice. It’s not just that the majority of the team is recovering from a contagious and fatiguing disease. That the league handed them a schedule that starts with back-to-back games followed by 17 more in 29 days is ludicrous. Both Buffalo and New Jersey had mad returns with 19 games in 32 games and 18 in 31 respectively. Neither, it should be noted, had great success on their return, and neither should have happened.
Delaying the Friday start is the least the league can do. Hockey is already a comically dangerous sport, and this year has a stupidly full schedule. If they refuse to ease the sprint to the end of the season, letting the Vancouver Canucks get a stretch in beforehand seems reasonable.
Embed from Getty Images