With any luck, the Vancouver Canucks' Covid saga is moving into its final chapters.
After J.T. Miller expressed strong concerns about the Canucks' original return-to-play plan, which would have seen them host the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, the schedule was revised.
Saturday's scheduled 4 p.m. PT start against Toronto was moved to Sunday — a huge sacrifice for Sportsnet, which has moved Oilers/Jets into the early slot and will, once again, be without a Hockey Night in Canada late game on Saturday night. The network had also planned a promotion with Molson
that would have seen both games simulcast in seven additional languages on top of the usual English, French and Punjabi. The Hockey Night in Canada Multilingual Edition project has now been rescheduled for a date to be announced later.
Meanwhile, the Canucks are now at the stage where they're conducting practices — although those practices remain closed to the media, and are being conducted without coach Travis Green.
During his media availability on Friday, Jim Benning said that Green has not yet been on the ice — but also mentioned that while a number of members of the coaching staff had contracted the virus, assistant coaches Nolan Baumgartner and Jason King had not.
While Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet
wrote Friday that "bench boss Travis Green was among the hardest hit by the organization’s COVID-19 outbreak," Benning said he was hopeful that Green would lead practice on Saturday — and it looks like that will happen. He and Brandon Sutter are scheduled to speak to the media after Saturday's practice.
Talking about his own experience with the virus, Horvat said, "I've had the flu before and a lot of people have on this team. It doesn't hit you llike a normal flu does.
"I'm just being honest and obviously speaking from personal experience that it's not something that you want to get, and it's not something that you want to see your family go through, either."
Despite making efforts to quarantine in his basement, Horvat said that his wife Holly did also test positive, and "I think it hit her a little harder than it hit me." He said that baby Gunnar wasn't tested.
Horvat also said that the players had been talking amongst themselves before Miller's explosive Zoom call on Wednesday.
"I think J.T.'s comments were were needed," he said. "For him to step up like that, he had his full teammates support.
"All of us were thinking the same thing, and we definitely felt like we needed more time and it was unsafe. I'm glad that we talked with the P.A. and talked to the league, and we all collectively came to the decision that we need more time to get prepared for our game."
The new schedule gives the team two extra days to prepare — and no back-to-backs now until April 28-29, on the road in Ottawa and Toronto. The end date has now been pushed out to Wednesday, May 19, and there is now one fewer back-to-back set, but the schedule is still asking the club to play out its final 19 games in 32 days.
As to why the Canucks have needed more time than other teams that also have major outbreaks, here's what Iain MacIntyre has to say:
A Canucks' official described it this week like this: 10 days into the NHL’s earlier major outbreaks, nearly all the players involved had recovered enough to resume training; 10 days into the P.1 variant outbreak in Vancouver, not only were a lot of players still sick but a few were actually getting worse.
The number of names on the Covid protocol list has dropped, at least. Nils Hoglander came off the list on Friday, so only Nate Schmidt and Jake Virtanen still remain at this point.
Once the club does get rolling again, the roster churn is going to be fascinating to follow.
Officially, defenseman Guillaume Brisebois and goaltender Arturs Silovs were added to the taxi squad on Thursday, while defensemen Ashton Sautner and Brogan Rafferty were added to the main roster as emergency exemption players on Friday.
When asked about a report that Jack Rathbone had been called up from Utica, Benning spoke only in generalities:
"We're going to have a lot of players moving," he said. "We don't know yet who's going to be able to play when they start playing, so we want to you know make sure that we have enough guys around and we can switch guys in and out so our players don't get over-taxed with the schedule. And we'll get an opportunity for some young guys to get in the lineup here, from now to the end of the year, and let's see what they can do."
Rathbone was not in the lineup when the Comets dropped a 6-2 road decision to Providence in a Friday matinee, but had played in the four earlier games since Utica's return to action last week — with a goal and three assists in his last three games.
In the aftermath of their own long Covid layoff, the Comets have played five games in eight days since their return, and are 2-3-0.
Benning did mention that Mikey DiPietro could end up seeing some game action with the Canucks, because "we have a goalie that's maybe not feeling 100 percent yet, so we're just taking this day by day."
He also gently introduced the notion that Elias Pettersson might be out for the rest of the year after all. Benning said Petey has been skating, but after an appointment this week with his specialist, he won't be ready to get back into game action anytime soon.
Another player who the Canucks won't see this season is Vasily Podkolzin. Though his SKA squad was ultimately eliminated from the Conference Final in the KHL playoffs by CSKA earlier this week, he was named to Russia's senior men's national team on Thursday.
He'll play in next week's Euro Hockey Challenge as part of the leadup to the World Championship in Latvia, which will start two days after the Canucks' regular season is set to wrap up, on May 21.