The Vancouver Canucks’ return to game action was delayed by the NHL on Thursday.
The Canucks will not play the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, which was to be Vancouver’s first game since March 24 following a COVID-19 outbreak within the team that had 22 players test positive for the coronavirus.
“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 NHL said in a statement. “The NHL made the decision with input from the League’s, NHLPA’s and club’s medical groups.”
The NHL said it is expected a revised schedule will be released Friday.
“Our medical and hockey operations staff have collaborated daily with NHL, NHLPA and local health officials on the health and well-being of the team and our players’ readiness to play,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a statement. “I would like to thank our players, our upcoming opponents, and everyone involved at the NHL and NHLPA for their input, guidance and understanding through this process. Above all else, the health and safety of players, staff and families remains the priority.
The Canucks practiced Thursday for the first time since their season was paused March 31. On Monday, 10 players skated in their first activity since the pause.
“Before every player resumes training, a full medical evaluation is carried out, consistent with return to play NHL COVID protocols,” Benning said. “As of today, certain players have passed evaluation, however many are not yet cleared and extra recovery time is required. Our medical staff are confident the recovery process for those players will be aided by an additional couple of days.”
Vancouver forward J.T. Miller on Wednesday expressed concern that the Canucks were being made to play too soon, after one practice, after many of their players had been ill.
“Maybe you would feel better after three practices, but I think it’s going to be hard either way,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Thursday. “The situation has put them in a difficult spot, but they’re going to need to get in and play games eventually. When that is, is out of our control. You obviously feel for them in this situation and you hope that they’re feeling well, their families are feeling well, and no one is affected by it long term.”
Vancouver had three players on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Thursday, down from seven on Wednesday, 16 on Tuesday and a high of 19 last week.
“I think it’s kind of crazy,” Miller said Wednesday. “I know that everybody’s got a job to do, but to expect pretty much our entire team to be ready to play [with] one practice and a pregame skate is a little bit hard to comprehend.”
The Canucks had been scheduled to play 19 games in 31 days to finish the 56-game regular season.
“I think in a busy month in a regular season, you might play 15, 16 games,” McDavid said. “So throw in three more in there is obviously a lot to ask. But these are different times, the games need to get played. But health and safety is the first priority, and you have to take care of that first.”
The schedule for the Scotia North Division was extended to May 16 to accommodate the remaining Canucks games. The NHL regular season was originally scheduled to end May 8 and had been extended to May 11.
Vancouver had eight games previously postponed during this outbreak.
“I’d never thought I’d be in this scenario in my career,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a start of a really long stretch, short but hard stretch at the end of the year here. A reaction? I don’t know. It’s not ideal, obviously, for anybody, but we have a job to do, I guess.”
Edmonton is scheduled to play at the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
“Obviously health and safety is everyone’s first priority,” McDavid said. “Almost all of [the Canucks] had [COVID-19]. It’s 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.”
Vancouver (16-18-3) is sixth in the seven-team North Division, 10 points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens. Edmonton (25-15-2) is third, 11 points ahead of the fifth-place Calgary Flames. The top four teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s tough to really feel bad for ourselves,” McDavid said. “There are people that aren’t even allowed to go to work and aren’t allowed to go to school and do all the things they would normally do. We’re obviously very 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.”
There had been 50 games postponed because of COVID-19 protocol since the NHL season began Jan. 13.
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika and independent correspondent Derek van Diest contributed to this report