VANCOUVER — The NHL's deputy commissioner says the Vancouver Canucks' COVID-19 outbreak is concerning, but remains confident the team will be able to complete its schedule.
In an email to The Canadian Press on Monday, Bill Daly says the Canucks' numbers are "concerning from a health and safety standpoint, not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint."
Daly says the league believes the Canucks will return and conclude their 56-game schedule.
Daly also says the league will not change its COVID protocols in the aftermath of the Canucks' situation.
After forward Adam Gaudette's positive test came back last Tuesday, practice continued without him and then last Wednesday morning's skate went ahead.
Left-winger Nils Hoglander was added to the NHL's protocol list Monday. Seventeen of the 22 players on the Canucks' active roster are now on the protocol list.
A player on the list has not necessarily tested positive — the list, for example, also has players who must self-isolate for being a close contact or travel reasons. A player who tests positive must self-isolate for 10 days.
The list is updated every day at 5 p.m. ET.
The team has had four games officially postponed because of the virus, and appears it will be sidelined longer. The Canucks are next scheduled to face the Calgary Flames Thursday and Saturday, however the NHL announced Calgary will face the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday instead. The league also moved Friday's match between the Oilers and Ottawa to Thursday.
Multiple reports have said the P. 1 variant first identified in Brazil is suspected to be involved in the Canucks' outbreak, but the Canucks and NHL have not commented publicly on results of tests since the Vancouver organization confirmed Gaudette had tested positive last week.
A Canadian infectious disease specialist says more information is needed on the Canucks before deeper analysis is possible.
"I think it's a bit early to speculate about what's happening with the Canucks. I mean I suspect that the outbreak there is likely going to turn out to be related to P1 but we don't know yet whether anyone's going to have severe infections," said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta.
"Certainly any of the variants, including what we call the wild type or the original variant, are able to cause symptomatic disease in young people, it's just the degree of symptomatology that is variable. And so it's difficult to draw conclusions just from one small group, but certainly, this should put Canadians on notice."
The biggest previous COVID-19 outbreaks in the NHL were all in the U.S.
The Dallas Stars had their first four games of the season postponed after 17 players tested positive — most of whom were asymptomatic.
The New Jersey Devils had 19 players on the COVID protocol list and seven games postponed earlier this season, while the Buffalo Sabres had nine players on the list and six games postponed.
Schwartz says it's not surprising to see an outbreak on a team, even though there is regular testing.
"I think it was just a matter of time and it's sort of similar to what we saw unfold with the White House and the outbreaks that occurred there," he said.
"Basically we know that testing is not intervention in and of itself. It's able, perhaps to identify people who are infected earlier than if we were just waiting for the development of symptoms alone, but if it's not also implemented with other safeguards and restrictions, it's basically like relying on a pregnancy test to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. So I think it's probably expecting too much for the testing alone to be able to prevent the infection."
The Canucks' outbreak comes with the vaccine rollout going slower in Canada than in many states in the U.S.
"There's two different countries, different rules, different situations," Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund said. "There's nothing we can do about it really. We've just got to wait for our turn."
— With files from national hockey writer Joshua Clipperton and Melissa Couto in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2021.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect adjustment to Thursday's NHL schedule.