JIGGENS: NHL unable to fend off COVID-19 offensive

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One of the distractions from the pandemic we’ve been able enjoy through the winter has now become a COVID story of its own.

As of Easter weekend, 16 players and three coaches from the Vancouver Canucks tested positive for COVID-19 – specifically the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil. Although the NHL season began late and was condensed to about 68 per cent of its traditional running time, it was meant to distract us from our daily dose of depressing news about mounting COVID numbers, inadequate vaccine supplies and the economic grief associated with the pandemic.

This news from the world of sports is just another reminder that we’re still far from being out of the COVID woods. Add to that the newly imposed four-week Ontario lockdown, and the seriousness of this health crisis cannot be ignored.

The NHL brass are probably sweating bullets right now. The Vancouver situation has the potential to royally mess up the league’s plans for the regular season to end on time and for the playoffs to begin on schedule. It’s bad enough the regular season won’t finish until May 11 – a time of year when we’re normally well into the second round of playoffs. Earlier last week, when only a couple of Canucks tested positive, the team’s games were postponed until at least April 6. With so many positive cases now tied to the same team, league officials are now speculating the hiatus could be stretched out significantly longer.

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The problem this presents is that Vancouver’s scheduled opponents will also be out of action during this prolonged pause. To minimize travel this season, teams have been playing two and three-game “series” against the same opponent over the course of just a handful of days. But these postponed contests will have to be made up at some point before May 11, if possible. Days off between games this season are minimal at best, and trying to work in these makeup contests is apt to be a challenge.

The Canucks are having a dismal season as it is and aren’t likely to make the playoffs, but these postponed games are important to the teams they’ve been scheduled to play and could have a huge bearing on determining the North Division’s post-season seeding. If the North Division is to keep pace with the league’s other three divisions so that the playoffs can start on time, the makeup games may have to be inserted here and there amidst the already tight windows between scheduled games. Or perhaps they may be tacked on post-May 11 while the first round of playoffs are already underway in the other divisions.

This is what the teams caught up in the Vancouver debacle fear most – that they’ll have to play several back-to-back games on consecutive days just as playoffs are looming. The Vancouver matter is even worse than what the Dallas Stars faced at the outset of the season. COVID protocols prevented the Stars from playing their first game until Day 10 of the regular season.

Somehow, the news coming out of Vancouver isn’t really surprising. This seemed destined to happen with the arrival of the second and third waves of COVID, not to mention the various variants that have popped up in recent months.

It isn’t a pretty picture. But more importantly, let’s hope the affected Canucks players overcome this setback without any serious complications.

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