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Canucks' facility re-opens Sunday, with a daunting challenge ahead

April 11, 2021, 1:22 PM ET [791 Comments]
Carol Schram
Vancouver Canucks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Vancouver Canucks are getting back to work.

The NHL and the team announced Saturday that the club's training facility will re-open on Sunday, and the sprint to the end of the season will resume with a home game on Friday, April 16 against the Edmonton Oilers.

But it's not full speed ahead. As of Saturday, all 19 roster players who landed on the NHL's Covid Protocol list are still there — and that's not counting the taxi squadders, the coaches and the one team staffer who also tested positive.

Every individual will need to be cleared by the club's medical staff before they're allowed back into the facility.

Here's a rough idea of what to expect over the next few days, per Canucks PR:

Zoom calls with players and coaching staff will resume on Monday, and they'll get back to a regular practice with media in the building on Wednesday.

As a reminder, here are the players from the main roster who did *not* land on the list:

• Brock Boeser
• J.T. Miller
• Jimmy Vesey
• Jordie Benn

Then, we've got injured players Tanner Pearson and Elias Pettersson, who are probably chomping at the bit to get back to proper training and rehab, and see how close they are to being able to make a return. CapFriendly also has Justin Bailey, Micheal Ferland and Jay Beagle on long-term injured reserve. We know that Bailey is out for the season after his shoulder surgery and Ferland is still home in Manitoba. I haven't seen anybody mention what injury Jay Beagle is dealing with, but there seems to be an increasing sense that not only will we not see him for the rest of this season, but he could also be impacted by this next year.

As for the taxi squad, we don't know who was hit by the virus and who wasn't. There are currently seven names listed on CapFriendly: forwards Loui Eriksson, Kole Lind and Tyler Graovac, defensemen Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty and Ashton Sautner and goalie Michael DiPietro.

It was also reported during the shutdown that the Canucks had recalled goalie Arturs Silovs from the Manitoba Moose and defenseman Guillaume Brisebois from the Laval Rocket. Emergency exceptions are allowed to be made for Covid situations. Roster limits also go away after the trade deadline, although teams must still remain salary-cap compliant.

At this point, it doesn't sound like any immediate call-ups are being made from Utica. And given the one-week quarantine restrictions on any player who comes in from the U.S., it's safe to assume that the lineup the Canucks ice on Friday will be made up of the players listed above...

...unless anything changes after Monday's trade deadline, of course.

While Jim Benning has said that he doesn't expect to be busy, it's always possible that a minor deal or two could come down. Given the appetite around the league for defensemen who can play the right side, I wonder if a healthy Jordie Benn and his expiring contract might still be of interest to a contender.

I also wonder how Travis Green will deploy his lineup once the club gets back to work.

As I'm sure you've heard, Vancouver's schedule is going to be intense once play resumes — 19 games in 31 days, with six sets of back-to-backs. And while they'll start with six games at home, those will happen over just nine nights. From there, it's a long flight to Ottawa on just one day's rest, and 11 of the last 13 on the road.

It's daunting, for sure, but there is a near-precedent this season. When the New Jersey Devils went through their Covid crisis back in February, they also peaked with 19 players on their list, on Feb. 8. When they were shut down after Jan. 31, they'd played nine games, and were 4-3-2. They got back on the ice on Feb. 16, then played 18 games in the following 31 days.

And, as you might expect or remember, the results weren't great. They were 6-10-2 over that 31-day span.

Other teams have also struggled when they've needed to make up games after being shut down due to Covid. The Flyers were 8-3-2 before they were paused in February; they've gone 11-12-4 since they got back to work. Even the Canadiens, who only had one player contract the virus, were 14-8-9 when they were shut down on March 20. Since they got back on the ice on March 30, they've gone 3-4-0, including a 5-0 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday — and that's with seven games in 12 days.

Of course, Montreal remains the team that the Canucks will be looking to reel in if they hope to accomplish the improbable and seize a playoff spot in this most challenging season.

Montreal finally moved ahead of Vancouver in games played on Saturday night, and they'll play two more games this week before the Canucks get on the ice on Friday night. Currently, the Canadiens sit eight points ahead of Vancouver, with 43 points in 38 games — and an injured Carey Price.

As for the Flames, they finally moved ahead of the Canucks in the standings on Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak with a 5-0 win over an Edmonton team that was playing with heavy hearts, following the memorial service for their late teammate Colby Cave earlier in the day.

I'd say the league was thinking that it needed to slot in a late game for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night since Vancouver-Calgary wasn't happening, and after they'd gone without one week prior.

I'd also say that McDavid definitely has a point. From our point of view, it's another reminder that the Canucks aren't the only team that gets the short end of the schedule stick.

As for playoffs, the league is hedging its bets on timing for now. For the moment, the last game for any of the U.S.-based teams is scheduled for Tuesday, May 11. Four more North Division games are scheduled after that — three of them involving the Canucks. And the last two are a back-to-back against Calgary.

If things stay as they are and the Canucks and Flames are eliminated from playoff contention at that time, I wouldn't be surprised to see the North Division playoffs begin concurrently — similar to how relegation games are played at the same time as playoffs during tournaments like the World Championships or World Juniors. In a perfect world, I'm sure the league would like to have everybody even at 56 games in the end — for draft lottery odds, as well as playoff position, and also for players' personal stats.

Anyway — I'm sure many more layers of this story will be revealed as we go along. So I'll quickly close with a couple of more positive items.

Firstly — the Utica Comets are finally back in action. As far as I can tell, all Canucks prospects are present and accounted for after that team's Covid outbreak, so that's a relief.

The Comets were 6-2-1 before their shutdown, but came back with a pair of losses — 4-2 on home ice to Rochester on Friday, then 5-1 on the road in Syracuse on Saturday.

Jonah Gadjovich stayed hot, with a goal and an assist on Friday night, and Sven Baertschi also chipped in an assist on Gajovich's power-play goal.

Jack Rathbone scored his second of the year on Saturday, on the power play, assisted by Nolan Stevens and Carson Focht.

And finally — Vasily Podkolzin was the triple-overtime hero on Saturday, keeping SKA alive in its KHL playoff series against CSKA.

After falling behind 3-0 in the series, SKA has now narrowed the gap to 3-2. Game 6 is set for Monday in St. Petersburg.
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