NHL delays Canucks’ return to play after COVID-19 outbreak

National Sports

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, April 8, 2021. The Canucks said Wednesday that 21 players, including three from the taxi squad, and four members of the coaching staff have tested positive in a COVID-19 outbreak. The NHL is in the most difficult position among the four major North American professional sports leagues on vaccinations because seven of its teams are based in Canada. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The NHL has delayed the Vancouver Canucks’ return to competition.

The Canucks, who have not played a game since March 24 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, had been scheduled to host the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night. The league announced Thursday the team would not play that game and did not immediately set a new date for Vancouver’s return.

The decision was made with input from the NHL Players’ Association and medical staff from teams, the NHL said.

Before the league made the announcement, Vancouver forward J.T. Miller said it would be “very challenging and not very safe” to play Friday night because the pandemic-hit team has 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 teammates who were sick to return to play so quickly.

“It’s kind of frustrating if I’m being 100 percent honest with you,” Miller said Wednesday. “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.”

The NHL plans to announce additional changes to the schedule for North Division teams on Friday.

The Canucks did not allow the media to attend practice Thursday, their first practice since the outbreak. At least 21 players and four members of the coaching staff have tested positive for the coronavirus since March 30.

Before the latest delay, Oilers captain Connor McDavid said it will be difficult for the Canucks to come back even if they have a number of practices.

“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,” he said.

Seven Canucks remained on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list Wednesday: defensemen Jalen Chatfield, Alex Edler and Nate Schmidt and forwards Jayce Hawryluk, Nils Hoglander, Zack MacEwen and Jake Virtanen.

A player on the protocol list has not necessarily tested positive. Players who are in isolation after traveling or who have 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.

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