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Seven additional Canucks players added to NHL's COVID protocol list

An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Seven additional members of the Vancouver Canucks were added to the NHL’s COVID Protocols list on Saturday, bringing the team’s total to 14 players.

Forwards Travis Boyd, Jayce Hawryluk, Bo Horvat, Tyler Motte and Brandon Sutter, defenceman Tyler Myers, as well as goaltender Thatcher Demko were the latest players added to the list.

“More than half the players on their roster have tested positive, and at this point, really, the NHL is working under the assumption that everyone has been exposed because of how quickly this has spread through the team,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported during the Saturday Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada.

Defencemen Alexander Edler and Quinn Hughes, forwards Zack MacEwen and Antoine Roussel, and goaltender Braden Holtby entered the league’s protocols Friday, based on testing and ongoing contact-tracing. Another player from Vancouver’s taxi squad, whose name has not been disclosed, was added to the list, too.

At least one member of the coaching staff, who has not been publicly identified at this time, tested positive for the virus and was also added to the list Friday.

They joined Adam Gaudette and Travis Hamonic, who entered the health-and-safety protocols earlier this week, prompting the postponement of Wednesday’s game against the Calgary Flames just before the opening faceoff.

The NHL had already postponed four Canucks games due to the outbreak, which is now not only the largest for a Canadian NHL team at one time this season but is also among the largest any professional North American sports team has faced.

It is not presently known if additional postponements will be necessary. Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, told Sportsnet in an email on Friday there had been “no consideration” given to shortening the Canucks’ season by reducing the number of games they’ll play after emerging from their shutdown.

“Everyone hopes the Canucks can recover enough that they can play,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said, when discussing the possibility of Vancouver’s season ending prematurely. “But if we get to a point where the recovery does not allow it, the NHL will look at it then.”

Currently, the Canucks are next scheduled to play on April 8 against the Flames. Dates for their rescheduled games have not yet been announced.

Preliminary timelines targeted April 6 as a return to practice date for the team, however that is no longer feasible.

“Obviously, on Tuesday they won’t be reporting to practice as had been originally hoped,” Johnston reported. “Before there’s any clarity on when the Canucks might return, when their practice facility can open, two conditions will have to be met. One, that the Canucks have multiple days of negative tests. And two, just seeing how everyone recovers here.

“That’s pretty notable. Because the Canucks are believed to be dealing with a variant of concern and there are some symptomatic cases among their players.”

Variants of COVID-19, caused by mutations in the virus, have become increasingly prevalent around the world.

Though it is not known which strain the Canucks are dealing with, the Vancouver Coastal Health region has become a global hotspot for the P.1 Brazilian variant, a highly transmissible version of the novel coronavirus that binds more tightly to human cells.

The Montreal Canadiens were the first North Division team to have their season paused by the novel coronavirus. Two Canadiens players, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, were added to the league’s COVID Protocol List on March 23, which prompted the league to postpone four of the team’s games. Montreal was able to return to practice on March 29.

Following these latest alterations to the Canucks’ schedule, eight games in the North Division have now been postponed this season, all since March 22.

A total of 50 games have been postponed league-wide since the NHL season began in January, with 45 of those postponements stemming from health-and-safety protocols. The other five were due to weather-related issues.

In light of the postponements, the NHL regular-season schedule was extended and is currently set to conclude on May 11, as opposed to the original end date of May 8.

In the wake of the Vancouver Canucks’ COVID-19 outbreak, a bubble environment could be an option for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2021.

“It’s not what anybody wants, but what I can tell you is that it’s going to be discussed,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada. “It depends on how the world evolves between now and then.

“Again, it’s not what anyone wants and it’s not the preferred option, but depending on where we go here over the next little while, they’re going to have to at least have a plan on the table.”

Last season’s playoffs were held in separate bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton for the Eastern and Western conferences, respectively.