Vancouver Canucks' next game postponed, delaying return from COVID-19 outbreak

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks say some players need more time to recover from a COVID-19 outbreak that has swept through the team.

General manager Jim Benning said in a statement Thursday that certain players have cleared the medical evaluations that they need to pass before returning to the ice, but "many" others have not been cleared and need more time to recover.

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"Our medical staff are confident the recovery process for those players will be aided by an additional couple of days," Benning said.

"Above all else the health and safety of players, staff and families remains the priority."

The NHL has postponed Friday night's game between the Canucks and visiting Edmonton Oilers.

"The decision to extend the period prior to the team’s resumption of play was made to provide club staff and players with additional time for recovery and preparation following its recent COVID outbreak," the league said in a statement. "The NHL made the decision with input from the league’s, (the NHL Players' Association's) and club’s medical groups."

The NHL said it expects to release a revised schedule on Friday.

Friday's tilt with the Oilers was set to be the Canucks' first since March 24. Vancouver has now had nine games postponed due to the outbreak.

The Canucks were scheduled Thursday to have their first full practice since late last month.

At least 21 players and four members of Vancouver's coaching staff have tested positive for the virus since March 30.

Three Canucks remained on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list Thursday, including forwards Nils Hoglander and Jake Virtanen, and defenceman Nate Schmidt. At the height of the outbreak, 19 Canucks were included on the list.

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.

Canucks forward J.T. Miller expressed concern about the team's quick return to the ice Wednesday, saying it would be "very challenging and not very safe" to play as scheduled on Friday because they had 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."

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."

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.

Edmonton's schedule has been revamped multiple times in recent months as the Canucks and Montreal Canadiens dealt with COVID-19 outbreaks.

McDavid said he and his teammates are trying to be flexible and take care of each other during the unprecedented season.

"It’s tough to really feel bad for ourselves," he said. "There’s people who aren’t even allowed to go into work and aren’t allowed to go into school and do all the things they would normally do. We’re obviously fortunate to be able to come into work and to get to live a fairly normal life. So I think it would be hard for us to sit here and complain about some scheduling issues."

Whether the Canucks will host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday remains unclear.

"I have confidence that between the Canucks, the players' association and the NHL (that) they'll communicate and make the appropriate decisions," Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Thursday.

"In terms of us, we feel for those guys and what they've been going through. Obviously not an easy situation. What happens from here is very much out of our control."

--- With files from Joshua Clipperton in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2021.

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